Huts for the homeless: 'It's very secure and very comfortable'

EUGENE, Ore. - Dianne Sciacca has not wasted any time making herself at home in her new Conestoga hut, located in the parking lot of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Eugene.

She describes the hut as having a "simple elegance. That's the only way to describe it: simply elegant."

Since Sciacca moved in at the beginning of January, she has already painted the exterior and created a small tile foyer from sampled and broken tiles in front of her hut.

Sciacca is one of three tenants who the Church of the Resurrection has welcomed to live in the new Conestoga huts as a part of an initiative to increase assistance for the homeless in Eugene.

The huts, which cost between $200 and $500 to build, are created with the help of donors and volunteers. So far, the huts have received positive feedback from local officials.

Initially, the Conestoga huts were an experimental living alternative for unhoused members of the St. Vincent De Paul's Overnight Parking Program. The program sites were for unhoused members of the community to legally park their campers, cars and tents.

Andy Heben, a local advocate for the homeless and a member of the Board of Directors for Eugene's Opportunity Village project, was one of the community members who believed the Conestoga huts could also be a viable solution for solving the homelessness problem in Lane County.

As far as the reaction from the local community, Heben said, "We really have yet to see any negative reception about the huts."

Although the program is only in its beginning stages, contributors are optimistic about the future of the huts.

"These huts are a way to start to incrementally realize our vision for Opportunity Village Eugene," said Heben.

The village will be made up of thirty residential Conestoga Huts along with other amenities such as a marketplace and will be considered a community for those who have been currently unhoused.

Creating Opportunity Village has not come without its obstacles, such as some community members' concerns of the potential increase in crime and violence. Heben believes concerns can be eased with the village's strict zero tolerance policies.

Heben said, "The Opportunity Village is going to have a set of agreements. There's going to be no drugs, alcohol, or violence, and everyone must actively contribute to the village."

Another major challenge homeless advocates have faced is finding a location for Opportunity Village. After nearly a year in negotiation, city officials have agreed the village will be built on a lot on North Garfield Street.

In the coming months, Sciaccia will not be the only one calling a Conestoga hut home. Sciaccia said, "I love it. It's very secure and very comfortable."