12 February 2022
A note from Councilor Groves: Gabe Piecowicz, Heather Sielicki and Everyone Village are the real deal!! Everyone Village is a unique managed camp set up under the City of Eugene's Safe Sleep Site program. I have had the pleasure of working with both Gabe and Heather and what's different about their program is that not only are they getting the unhoused off of our streets and into better conditions, they are seeking to get at the root causes of being unhoused which is one of the keys to eradicating this problem long-term.
I have been able to shadow Pastor Gabe during his street outreach work and his ability to connect with the unhoused community is amazing. He is able to establish relationships with people who are generally not trusting of strangers and can be set in their ways. In my time with Gabe I have been amazed at his ability to get people moving in the right direction when previous efforts have been unsuccessful and resulted in actions that are not always ideal.
I want to thank both Gabe and Heather for a establishing a different model, one that holds promise for the future and moves us beyond just warehousing people.
‘This is a godsend’
Eugene Register-Guard | USA TODAY NETWORK
Everyone Village’s waitlist application asks people what their barriers to housing might be and how long they’ve lived without shelter — difficult questions for people in difficult situations.
But it also asks people about their goals, interests and strengths.
The founders of Everyone Village, a unique shelter community and one of Eugene’s new Safe Sleep sites, are hoping to build something new that allows people to heal from the trauma of living unsheltered and foster their ambitions for the future.
“We don’t want to tell people what their next chapter is. We want them to tell us and then we have the privilege of saying, ‘OK, now let us come around you and help you make that real,’” said Gabe Piechowicz, co-leader of Everyone Village and pastor at Everyone Church. “This is a place for hope and love and community to grow from and spread out.”
Communities throughout the nation, including Eugene, are in need of shelter that goes beyond providing a cot and meal. As of January, Lane County grappled with 4,003 people living unsheltered, according to the county, with about a quarter as many shelter beds and few programs dedicated to lifting people out of the cycles that trap people in chronic homelessness.
Co-founders of Everyone Village Gabe Piechowicz, left, and Heather Sielicki stand on the site of the new Safe Sleep site in west Eugene.
PHOTOS BY CHRIS PIETSCH/THE REGISTER-GUARD
Co-founder of Everyone Village Heather Sielicki shows off a concept drawing for the new Safe Sleep site in west Eugene.
Piechowicz and the project’s other leader, Heather Sielicki, are not waiting for a solution to materialize. They’re bringing residents and staff onto the project as they build it.
The village model, inspired by Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, aims to organize the village of microshelters, tiny homes and RVs into neighborhood pods sprinkled with gathering spaces and gardens. Residents, or “villagers,” will receive the support they need to find stability, including job training.
Since its soft opening in December, 36 people have joined Everyone Village.
Sam Jones was one of the first residents. He lived in the neighborhood for decades, in a warehouse with permission from the landlord, so he was a good fit for a program that seeks to bring the west Eugene community together.
Jones likes to help out. Over the years, he frequently volunteered with Egan Warming Centers to get people into warm shelter when temperatures dropped to dangerously cold numbers.
But lately, he’s had to take it easy. About a month ago, at 67, Jones had a heart attack and triple bypass surgery. Having a home in Everyone Village has allowed him to recover. The village has supported him as he’s healed and frequently reminded him to follow doctor’s orders and rest, which isn’t in his nature, he said.
“After the losses I’ve suffered over the past year and my health turning bad, this is a godsend for me to be able to recuperate,” Jones said.
It takes a village to make a village
After being a logger for years, Piechowicz went back to school in his mid-30s seeking the next chapter.
“Logging is a young person’s game,” he said with a laugh.
To his surprise, he ended up with a pastoral ministry degree. His first task as a new pastor was a big one: help close the Westside Christian Church, which had an aging congregation and was struggling to keep the lights on. However, resources left over from closing the church were put toward EveryOne Church — a rebirth.
The church is the village. “It’s kind of confusing. There is no (traditional) Sunday worship. We have spiritual gatherings on Wednesday evenings where people just come in, and even though I’m a Christian pastor, we just have a safe sleep space to explore that part of who you are,” Piechowicz said. “This, for me, is a perfect way to be a faith leader and to love on the community in a real intentional way.”
He met Sielicki last summer. For years, she’s had her hand in many efforts to address homelessness, from the city’s Human Rights Commission to working with White Bird Clinic and Carry It Forward.
Last summer, she was working with Carry It Forward as it was constructing tiny homes and faced the dilemma of where to put them. Sielicki and Piechowicz joined forces, and quickly, things began to fall into place.
In August 2021, Rexius President Arlen Rexius donated a 3.55-acre property on Dani Street to EveryOne Church in hopes of addressing homelessness in west Eugene. In September, the Eugene City Council approved the location as a Safe Sleep site.
In October, they hired staff and contacted potential residents. In November, a supporter donated a 3,000-squarefoot warehouse next to the property to serve as the entrance to the village as well as a shop space and hub for career training projects.
The site piloted with four residents in December.
Now, 36 people call the village home and more will join in the future. The City Council approved hosting up to 60 shelter units.
The site will operate for at least 18 months under the city’s Safe Sleep site program. When the contract is up, the city will decide if the site should continue. Everyone Church signed a fiveyear contract to lease the location.
Doctorate- and graduate-level students from the University of Oregon’s Landscape Architecture program are working with architect Bill Randall to further develop the site. Private businesses also have partnered with the village to get it off the ground.
“A lot of people who care the most about doing something, the coalition of the willing around Everyone Village, has been a real diverse assortment of people who traditionally have been left out of the conversation around solutions,” Sielicki said.
Providers from White Bird Clinic NEST, Ideal Options, Adult and Teen Challenge, HIV Alliance and CAFA are or will soon offer wellness support services, housing navigation and benefits assistance. MAPLE Microdevelopment is supporting economic development. Oregon Beverage Recyclers is providing opportunities for part-time employment.
The village aims to make a vibrant community within and around it. When the village was getting off the ground, Sielicki found that the neighborhood association hadn’t been active for 20 years, so the village helped reactivate it. With Mattie Reynolds Park nearby and plans for raised garden beds, she sees a lot of potential in the area.
Jones, sometimes called Mayor Sam because he’s resided on the block longer than anyone, has spoken with neighbors of the village to ease their concerns. In addition to keeping their own space organized, villagers cleaned the trash that remained after the city cleared a nearby collection of RVs.
“Neighbors are coming around,” Jones said. “They were all worried at first, but I think their worry is starting to subside.”
Residents have surprised Sielicki and Piechowicz everyday with starting and completing random projects, or “spontaneous efforts to help,” she said.
Some villagers have been particularly inspired to get the place to the point that it’s ready for more residents because they have friends still living in tents.
Building up people, building a village With Pallet shelters powered by long chords attached to the warehouse, sewage yet to be installed and many projects in the beginning phase, it’s clear Everyone Village is just getting started.
“We could have said to everybody, ‘We’ll call you next year when all the electrical is here, sewers in place, the warehouse is remodeled, the fencing is done,’ “ Piechowicz said. “Instead, we said, ‘Let’s just get everybody in here and let’s all figure it out like one big crazy family.’ “ Every Thursday at 1 p.m., staff, volunteers and villagers are invited to a community meeting to participate in shaping the organization. Piechowicz said once people understand that their voice is valued and their expertise is wanted, ideas start flowing and some of the best ideas come from residents.
The village’s filled activity calendar also includes other opportunities such as peer support, job support, art workshops and health care clinics.
This first phase of residents were picked particularly for their interest in participating in the village experiment. In the future, people with more barriers, who would need more addiction, behavioral or other support, could join.
“We want the name to be real, but it can’t be real if we don’t launch and get into the air,” Piechowicz said. “If we get launched well ... then this next summer, when we do site development, we can start taking folks to live here who have higher needs and require more support.”
The site’s leaders envision a future where Everyone Village is the home base of many nearby projects that all create more jobs, improve the neighborhood and uplift the entire community. The hope now and in the future is to nourish people mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally so they can go beyond surviving and begin to flourish.
“This has been the most positive effort I’ve ever been engaged with because of the sheer amount of hope that people have,” Sielicki said. “And the goodwill they have for making it succeed.”
“This project is just the biggest blessing, as far as things I’ve done in my life,” he said.
Contact reporter Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick at Tatiana@registerguard. com or 541-521-7512, and follow her on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT.
“It’s kind of confusing. There is no (traditional) Sunday worship. We have spiritual gatherings on Wednesday evenings where people just come in, and even though I’m a Christian pastor, we just have a safe sleep space to explore that part of who you are. This, for me, is a perfect way to be a faith leader and to love on the community in a real intentional way.”
Co-leader of Everyone Village and pastor at Everyone Church