Q: What is Unity SafePlace?
A: SafePlace is a new program providing transitional housing in or near the parking lots of participating faith-based organizations; 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 and First United Methodist Church. 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 peer support.
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 camping sites and 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 seeks 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 a Steering Committee in partnership with the board and staff of Unity Shelter. The Steering Committee is comprised of leaders from other faith communities, local nonprofits (including the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition’s Housing Action Team, Corvallis Housing First, Room at the Inn and the Men’s Shelter), and individuals with years of experience and education working within the systemic issues of housing. This team has valuable experience which helps guide day-to-day operations and also the path forward.
SafePlace has hired night staff and a manager for Safe Camp and the SafePlace locations at First United Methodist Church and Corvallis Evangelical Church. 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: Will Safe Camp continue to have a mixture of camp sites and the microshelters?
A: Yes. First Congregational remains committed to providing temporary, transitional housing as part of its fundamental faith mission. Safe Camp will continue to offer a mixture of microshelters and camping sites. As Safe Camp residents move on into more permanent housing, other houseless residents will be invited to apply for spots in the camp. All residents will receive supportive services to help them make the transition to permanent housing.
Q: How many residents are living at Safe Camp now?
A: About a dozen campers live at Safe Camp now.
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, a couple or a single parent with children. 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: Who is allowed to stay in the microshelters?
A: Currently, the microshelters are housing people who are medically fragile and therefore at higher risk during the coronavirus pandemic. City officials have approved using the microshelters for this purpose.
Q: Who has built the microshelters?
A: The microshelters are being built with generous donations for materials and the donated labor of local contractors.
Q: Are other faith communities involved in the SafePlace program?
A: At this writing, two other congregations, the Corvallis Evangelical Church and the First United Methodist Church, have become SafePlace sites, and microshelters have been placed at both churches. The goal is to enlist additional faith communities and other organizations in the SafePlace effort.
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, 11 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. I’ve heard that some law enforcement officials have concerns about camps for people who are unhoused such as Safe Camp. Is this true?
A. It’s true. However, Safe Camp leaders believe many of these concerns reflect law enforcement’s previous experience in dealing with camps in unauthorized locations such as the tree farm property adjacent to Safe Camp. Law enforcement in the county has much less experience working with a managed situation such as Safe Camp. Safe Camp leaders believe a managed camp in which residents must adhere to a code of conduct, and where those participants can access necessary services, is safer (and easier for officers to deal with) than what has been the city and county’s status quo: A series of camps that can be closed down with little or no notice, forcing people who are unhoused scurry to find new locations to live.
Safe Camp managers believe managed facilities such as Safe Camp, with case management and other services, offer a better option, both for camp participants and for the community.
Q: Aren’t Safe Camp and SafePlace luring houseless people with no connection to the mid-valley region?
A: No. The vast majority of camp participants have connections to the area.
Q: Who’s paying for Safe Camp and SafePlace?
A: To date, this program has been funded by the hosts of SafePlace locations (First Congregational UCC, First United Methodist, Corvallis Evangelical Church), our partner organizations and agencies like the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, the Men’s Shelter, Room at the Inn, Corvallis Housing First, and contributions by individuals and other faith communities and organizations.
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 quilt of solutions. We believe, however, that a managed camp that offers a safe place and which allows mentors and managers to get residents into the pipeline for more stable housing is a key part of that quilt. We look forward to working with the new Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity (HOPE) initiative, which is just getting off the ground.
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, the county Planning Commission voted 6-1 to grant the church’s application for a conditional use permit for Safe Camp. The commission’s decision can be appealed to the Board of County Commissioners for 14 days after the decision. If an appeal is filed, a new hearing on the permit application, complete with new public testimony, will be held.
Q: What is the church asking for from the county?
A: The church proposes to use the 1.35 acres of its property that is in the county as part of its Safe Camp ministry – its work to provide temporary, transitional shelter to people in our community who lack shelter.
Q: Didn’t the county already approve Safe Camp?
A: Yes, temporarily. But county officials also asked the church to apply for the conditional use permit, and the church has done so.
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, divided between tents and microshelters. 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 or to help build additional microshelters, information on how to donate can be found at these sites: https://www.corvallisucc.org/safe-camp-update/ and through the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition’s website, https://sustainablecorvallis.org/get-involved/donate/ (Be sure to specify whether your donations are for Safe Camp, SafePlace or microshelter construction.)
You may also visit our "Donate" page on this website for more instructions and specific links.
Q: How can I find out more about Safe Camp and SafePlace?
A: Send us an email at email@example.com. We’ll respond to civil emails as soon as possible.
Unity SafePlace Frequently Asked Q & A
Updated August 19, 2020
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