Homeless Campers Volunteering for Park Maintenance

A new program Eugene’s Community Supported Shelters has set up “rest stops” for homeless campers in exchange for volunteer work cleaning up and maintaining city parks. Twelve residents of one of the rest stops spent two hours on Wednesday, 7 May 2014, removing invasive plant species—such as blackberry bushes and ivy—from Skinner Butte Park. Amazon Park will also get some TLC courtesy of the campers.

Rest Stop Pilot Program

The CSS program will see volunteers from the camps working for three hours a day, two days a month, at one of the two parks. The plan is to keep participants volunteering as long as the rest stops exist; the rest stops are currently a pilot program. Twelve of the eighteen residents of one of the city-sanctioned camps, located near Chambers Street and Northwest Expressway, volunteered on Wednesday.

Rest stop residents must submit an application to Community Supported Shelters and be interview before acceptance. “We’re […] trying to create an environment where people won’t have a tendency to stagnate,” said Erik de Buhr, executive director of CSS and creator of the park maintenance program.

Photo credit: Rick Obst / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Skinner Butte Park – Photo credit: Rick Obst / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The seed for the park project was planted when de Buhr contacted the city of Eugene about picking up litter on West 11th Avenue and was told by a city official to contact the parks department. Additional inspiration came from the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression-era government work relief program.

“We’re trying to supply people at our camps with a purpose in our community,” de Buhr stated. “Giving people legal shelter is only part of the vision.”

Veteran Volunteers

Veterans are given priority in the camps, de Buhr said. By his estimation, approximately half the residents of the Chambers camp are veterans.

Phillip Butters-Perry, a new resident of the Chambers camp, is a veteran of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division and served in a special forces unit in Vietnam. “Our morale is great,” he said. “We get together and work things out and have meetings.”

Butters-Perry added that he sees the rest stops as a good response to nationwide homelessness. “I travel around the United States a lot,” he said, “and I see the homeless situation getting worse and worse. There’s a lot of [homeless veterans] out there.”

Expanded Park Maintenance

Parks Planning Supervisor Sandi LeGat stated that, while neighborhood parks are frequently adopted by nearby residents, it’s harder to attract volunteers for larger community parks like Skinner Butte and Amazon.

At Skinner Butte Park, the Eugene Rotary Club helps to maintain the facilities on top of the butte. However, the majority of the maintenance is performed by two city employees who also manage other parks. “General maintenance activities [are] what we have the most difficult time [keeping up] on,” LeGat said. “I thought that it was great and wonderful that [rest stop residents] were willing to help out”

According to Eugene Parks Department Volunteer Coordinator Carrie Karl, painting, pruning, mulching, and graveling are among the projects the volunteer maintenance program will tackle in the near future.

This story was first reported by The Register-Guard.