[Above: The former home of Cascade Presbyterian Church on Willamette in South Eugene.]
There’s no question that the crisis of the unhoused, the homeless, people on the street, "travelers" — however we want to designate those in need — has reached a critical mass moment in Eugene and Lane County.
Of this group, kids and teens are the most vulnerable.
St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) wants to begin tackling this pervasive issue. The nonprofit human services org has a four-month option to buy the property at 3350 Willamette Street, the former home to the Cascade Presbyterian Church, which has moved its congregation to meet on Sunday mornings at Hi-Fi Music Hall. SVdP would use the property as residential facility for homeless youth.
“We just learned about the availability last week,” Paul Neville tells EW. “We’re going to take that four months and we’re going to try to secure funding.”
The four-month option means that St. Vinnies, exclusively, has four months to raise the money to buy the property.
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Neville says. “This would be a facility that would serve homeless youth that are still in high school.”
Nevile says the target demographic is homeless youth ages 16 to 18, a population he says is very vulnerable.
The idea stems from St. Vincent’s Job program for youth, the brainchild of SVdP’s executive director Terry McDonald. Nevile says there are 40 kids currently in the program. The program employs teens in SVdP and works together with the kids’ schools.
“We provide them with some income,” Neville says. “We provide a steady presence in their lives.”
He adds: “We have a foundational base in this that helped inspire the idea for an actual residential facility.”
The facility would house anywhere from 12 to 20 teens at a time. Neville says they will continue to work closely with local schools, as well as the city of Eugene, Springfield and the county.
Neville says human trafficking, and the sex trade up and down I-5, of Lane County youth is a very real problem.
“If you can take these kids at an extremely vulnerable age and provide them with intense case management you can save them from something like that,” he says.
Neville brings up the street kids who hang out up and down Broadway downtown, especially at the corner of Broadway and Olive.
“There’s been a lot of concern for years about kids hanging down at the mall,” he says, referring to the downtown strip’s old nickname.“Not much has been done to address the underlying cause.”
SVdP hopes this facility will be a beginning in addressing the root causes of local youth homelessness.
Neville says the next four months will be a “mad scramble” to raise the money, but they’re optimistic. Securing funds is only piece of the puzzle, however. Neville says during the next four months SVdP is looking to develop partnerships, design a program, design a residential facility in a former church and work with neighbors.
“We’ve got the experience and the contacts to pull this off,” he says. “I think there’s going to be strong community support for something like this.”