A church in Portland, Oregon is building 15 tiny shelters on its 11-acre property as a tangible way to lift up the homeless in the immediate community and help put them on a path toward self-empowerment. Central Church of the Nazarene in Southeast Portland will officially open Agape Village this northern summer. The village is a non-profit faith-based initiative designed to provide a substantive response in a community that is largely under-resourced when it comes to providing safe places for the homeless community. “It started with the church’s desire to more effectively love God and love our neighbour,” Pastor Matt Huff said.
“And the church is in a place in Portland where we’re moving tents off the front step of the church on a regular basis. We’ve got people camping all over the place. And that’s our neighbours. How do we engage them and love them and not just kick them out?” Located in an area with a high houseless population, the church has had people living on its property ever since it opened. Huff explained that the idea for Agape Village was inspired by seeing the work that other churches in the area have done through programs like Opportunity Village in Eugene, Dignity Village in Portland and Kenton Woman’s Village in Portland.
According to Huff, the model that will be implemented by Agape Village will take bits and pieces from all the other villages that Huff visited. The work is being done by a volunteer workforce. The village will consist of about 15 “sleeping pods” that measure 96 square feet in area. The pods won’t have electricity, plumbing or heating but will have solar powered batteries that will allow residents to charge a cellphone. The pods will also be insulated. The village will feature a central common area, a kitchen, bathroom, and shower. The village will be self-governed and overseen by the Agape Village Board. The village will be monitored 24/7 by volunteers and residents.
Residents of the village will be expected to follow five basic rules: no violence, no theft, no alcohol/drugs, no disruptive behaviour and everyone must put in volunteer hours for the betterment of the community. While the project will provide shelter to those without a home, the goal is to provide a safe place for the homeless community to transition into permanent housing and “healthier life.” Huff explained that while there won’t be employment benchmarks residents will have to meet in order to stay in the village, he said that the program is looking for residents to show evidence that they are moving forward and working towards something.
Each resident will be assigned a case manager who will be responsible for helping the residents find employment. There are a number of factors why there is a high level of homelessness in Portland, Huff said, including rising rent and drug addiction. “But in our neighbourhood, there are no shelters,” he said. “The shelters that are open are full and more downtown. People don’t have a place to go to. So they end up here.” Agape Village is partnering with various organizations such as a local hospital to provide Agape Village residents with services like peer-to-peer counselling, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, mentor support, and case management.
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