Unity SafePlace Frequently Asked Q & A
Updated June 21, 2022
Q: What is Unity SafePlace?
A: SafePlace is a new program providing transitional housing in microshelters; Safe Camp at the First Congregational Church is part of SafePlace, but SafePlace extends to other locations as well, with microshelters placed at the Corvallis Evangelical Church, First United Methodist Church, Church of the Good Samaritan, Life Community Church, and the site of the Men's Shelter. The goal of SafePlace is to assist individuals, couples, and families in housing transition by providing a safe environment for temporary housing coupled with case management services and resource navigation.
Q: What is Safe Camp?
A: Safe Camp is a site located on property of the First Congregational Church of Corvallis that offers shelter, through microshelters, to people who are unhoused. The idea is that Safe Camp, as the name implies, offers a safe place where people can safely rest and sleep, begin to access services and receive support to work toward permanent housing. (For more about microshelters, see the section below.)
Q: What drove the initial push to create Safe Camp?
A: Safe Camp launched in the summer of 2019, when people living in tents in the tree farm adjacent to the church’s property were cleared with no advance notice at the request of the landowner, who was seeking to have it annexed into the city and developed. Some of the uprooted people gathered at the nearby First Congregational Church, in the parking lot, with no idea about where to go next. As the church and other advocates for people without homes rallied to help the campers, Safe Camp, the first site for SafePlace, was created on the church property.
Houseless people have struggled to find shelter in Corvallis for years; some of them have elected to camp in locations that can be shut down by authorities with little or no notice. When authorities close one of these camp sites, the residents there are forced to start over again in a new location, where they often cannot be located by social workers or others who are interested in helping them find more permanent housing. There has been no place in the county or city where the unhoused can sleep and rest safely – and where they can regularly access the services necessary to move them toward more stable housing.
Safe Camp has been structured to break that cycle. The idea is to give the unhoused a safe place where they can settle; this allows camp managers, mentors, social service agencies and others an opportunity to connect campers with essential services, including transitional housing. Safe Camp managers and volunteers believe consistent access to those services will help move campers into more stable housing, and this already has occurred in a number of cases.
Q: How did SafePlace leaders decide how to develop this program?
A: When reviewing the many local programs that already exist to assist people who don’t have stable housing, transitional housing was determined to be a gap. SafePlace was inspired by Opportunity Village in Eugene. Collaboration with other area programs is a core aspect of SafePlace. Its guidelines, code of conduct, and intake procedures all draw upon ones used by other successful programs.
Q: Who is managing SafePlace and Safe Camp?
A: SafePlace is managed by Unity Shelter. A Steering Committee comprised of individuals with years of experience and education working within the systemic issues of housing guides the program. This team has valuable experience which helps guide day-to-day operations and also the path forward.
Unity Shelter staffs Safe Camp and the various SafePlace locations. Staff and volunteers from each congregation are directly involved in the work of running the microshelters at their individual sites.
Q: Are residents at Safe Camp and in the SafePlace microshelters required to pass a background check?
A: Yes, and participants agree to abide by a code of conduct.
Q: Is there a limit to the number of people who will be able to live at Safe Camp?
A: Yes. No more than 21 people will be able to live at Safe Camp, divided between the microshelters on site and the area reserved for camp sites.
Q: What is a microshelter?
A: A microshelter is a small and (somewhat) portable structure, about the size of a garden shed, that’s big enough to shelter and sleep an individual, or a couple. The microshelters have locking doors and are electrically heated. The county regulations allowing vehicles for the houseless to be parked in faith community parking lots define vehicles in such a way to include microshelters.
Q: Are there indications that Safe Camp and SafePlace are having success in helping residents transition into more stable housing?
A: Yes. At this writing, 34 participants have moved out of Safe Camp and into housing. All Safe Camp residents have been added to the waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers. In addition, Safe Camp participants are connecting with health care services and the Oregon Health Plan, with the assistance of Benton County health navigators to support getting their health care needs met.
Q: Who’s paying for Safe Camp and SafePlace?
A: Unity Shelter, our generous donors, and funding partners provide ongoing operational support for Safe Camp and SafePlace. Host organizations have assumed some costs, such as utilities, when microshelters are placed at their location.
Q: Will Safe Camp by itself solve the issue of houselessness in Corvallis and Benton County?
A: No. The problem is too big, too widespread, for any one solution; there is no “typical” unhoused person, so we need a spectrum of solutions.
Q: What is the status of the application from First Congregational to Benton County for a conditional use permit for Safe Camp?
A: On Aug. 18, 2020 the county Planning Commission voted 6-1 to grant the church’s application for a conditional use permit for Safe Camp. This permit continued in place as the property was annexed into the City of Corvallis in 2021.
Q: Are conditions attached to the permit?
A: Yes – and many of those conditions have been proposed by Safe Camp managers to help improve the safety and comfort of Safe Camp residents and our neighbors. For example, the church will cap the maximum number of residents at Safe Camp at 21. The conditions proposed by the church also call for guests to sign a code of conduct; failure to adhere to the code of conduct can lead to a guest’s eviction from Safe Camp. (Guests now must sign a code of conduct, which has been substantially revised since July 2019, and guests have been evicted for code violations.) Other conditions are designed to address fire safety concerns – for example, each camping site and microshelter will be equipped with a fire extinguisher. (For more on the conditions to which the church has agreed, read the church’s supplemental materials to the conditional use application, on the county’s website at http://bit.ly/2xeWYSW)
Q: How can I donate to Safe Camp or SafePlace?
A: If you’re interested in contributing to Safe Camp or SafePlace please see the "Donate" page on this website.
Q: How can I find out more about Safe Camp and SafePlace?
A: Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll respond to emails as soon as possible.
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