A Place Off The Streets

Flour dust covers everything. Bowls are overflowing with tomato sauce. Plates piled high with pepperonis, olives, and cheeses have been crammed onto two small tables. Clusters of people crowd around the ingredients, attempting to make their ideal pizza.

Someone looking onto this moment might imagine it as a kid’s cooking class or a birthday party, but it’s not. These 20 kids be anywhere, but right now they’re spending the day in a Eugene day shelter. Most of the people cooking are homeless and haven’t had an opportunity to eat, let alone make a pizza in a very long time. However, at this particular moment they are able to forget about where they will sleep for the night, and any of the other thoughts that are surely on constant scroll through their head, because of staff and volunteers at First Place Family Center in Eugene.

Pizza Making Day at First Place Family Center

Pizza making day at First Place Family Center

First Place family center is one of Eugene’s few resources still offering help to the homeless. The shelter, which requires that all guests have at least one child, offers a day center with services such as laundry, Internet, and job search help. Volunteers from the University of Oregon also come in monthly to cook with the families.

The center also works with other programs in Eugene and Springfield to provide legal and safe parking for families who would like to stay overnight in cars and works with the interfaith shelter program to provide shelter and meals for up to 10 families during the school year.

“Oregon has the highest percentage of people who are homeless in the country, as I understand, Oregon was hit hard,” said William Wise, Director of First Place Family Center.

Wise says that housing is one of the first things to go and last to come back when the economy is hit. He believes finding affordable housing in Eugene is even harder because of the University. The rental vacancy rate in Eugene is typically less than 1 percent. “Part of that is because of the university students who come in and pay bucko bucks for a room, it really inflates rental cost,” said Wise.

So where do people go when they can’t find a place to live? The Jefferson Neighborhood is one area. The neighborhood’s proximity to both downtown and the fairgrounds makes it a common spot for people without a living situation to hangout during the day.

Jefferson Westside Neighborhood Chair Stephen Heider remembers the neighborhood had an issue with property theft last summer when people were found sleeping in the animal pens at the fairgrounds.

Although the gates have since been closed and Heider believes the situation has gotten better, there are still a large number of people who wander the neighborhood’s streets looking for help. Places like First Place Family Center have resources to offer help to the population but their family requirement and distance from the JWN make it hard to cater to everyone. Two groups inside JWN also offer assistance to the homeless.

The Hosea Youth Services program operates three days a week out of the Eugene Evangelical Church. “What we do is provide basic services to homeless youth and in doing so develop relationships with them that we hope will be encouraging and help them make good choices in their lives to hopefully see things change so that they are no longer homeless,” said Mike Langley the Hosea Drop In Center director.

The space inside the church is made to work as a safe zone for Eugene’s homeless youth. “First off, when they come through they have a place to be off the street, a place they can find a refuge at least a few hours where they are not worried about stuff. There are showers and laundry, its kind of a comfy situation down here, there are things to do,” Langley said. The Drop In center has music equipment, a TV, pool table, books and other things available. The three days a week the center is open a meal is served at 5 p.m.

The Hosea center staff and volunteers don’t just want to provide a fun environment. They work hard to help get youth off the streets and into employment. The staff works to, “provide through work that we have found in the community jobs for kids we pretty much facilitate that, we hope that it will be real helpful mentorship time,” Langley said.  “The ultimate goal from Hosea is to teach what it means what it means to have a job to facilitate their gaining the ability to have ongoing employment.”

Hosea also operates a thrift store a few blocks away and some of the youth have the opportunity to work or volunteer there.

When they are able to help someone find housing, committed volunteers help to donate everything they can so the resident can be comfortable. They keep an eye on what comes into the Thrift Store to see if any of it can be useful to new renters.

The congregation at the First United Methodist Church on Olive sees the neighborhood’s homeless population as a personal mission. Monday through Friday volunteers at the churches front desk give out 10 bags of food. A member brought up the idea after seeing it in another publication.

First United Methodist Church in Eugene- Photo Courtesy of JWN group member Haoyi Lu

Each bag has individually wrapped snacks and the packers make sure to always include some type of protein with crackers like cheese or peanut butter. The food is brought together by donations.

This past spring, someone at the church had the idea of inviting the homeless off the streets for a fresh meal once a week. Volunteers come in at 8:30 a.m. Thursdays and assemble sandwiches and coffee. The doors open at 9 a.m. A volunteer at the church says that the people are always hungry and deeply appreciative. Generally, six to 12 people stop in for the food but they’ve had as many as 20 as word spreads.

First Place Family Center, Hosea Youth Programs, and the food program through the First United Methodist Church all provide day services for people who need help. However, places to stay and medical services are still in high demand for the homeless population in Eugene.

“There are people with really high levels of skills who can’t find jobs right now. One third of people who are homeless have a chronic untreated mental illness, the majority of people who are chronically homeless have a reason for it. Most of the people you see on street corners can’t just go get a job they need medical care all the judgment comes from ignorance,” said Wise.

White Bird medical clinic is one resource to help people get treatment for their mental and medical illnesses. The clinic is located in Eugene and offers homeless drop in hours from 12-2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. “Our clients are below hell and our job as case managers is to get them back up into hell and then we figure out a way to get them out of hell,” said Norman Riddle Case Manager at White Bird Clinic. “We have a limited amount of resources there is no real affordable housing here, we figure out a way to help people tread water, there are no magic keys to apartments.”

As for warm places to stay, options are pretty limited in Eugene. First Place Family Center works with other groups throughout Eugene and Springfield in attempt to offer places to stay for families. Eugene Mission offers a shelter for men and women and the Egan Warming Center works to provide a place to stay for people on the street during Eugene’s worst weather.

Resources available for people struggling with homelessness may not be abundant especially in residential areas such as Jefferson Westside Neighborhood, but with committed groups there are options to help bring people up. These groups and businesses make it so that moments like spreading cheese on a pizza are possible.

There is Such Thing As A Free Lunch (Well Dinner)

Food For Lane County operates The Dining Room, a restaurant type venue that serves free meals, Monday through Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in downtown Eugene.

The Dining Room is decorated to look like a nice restaurant. “We work very very hard to make it an emphasis on dignity and respect,” said Vikki Hinrichs, The Dining Room’s volunteer coordinator. Diners enjoy cloth napkins, a coffee bar, and desserts brought around on trays by volunteers.

The restaurant employees and volunteers make meals based on what  is available at the Food For Lane County warehouse. The average number of people fed per day is 300 and the staff goes through 600-700 pounds of food to make that happen.

Want to Make A Difference?

There are a variety of ways you can reach out to the homeless in Eugene.

Contact one of these organizations to see how you can help make a difference to Eugene’s homeless population.

  • The Dining Room 

270 W. 8th Avenue Eugene, Or 97401


(541) 343-2822

How to help: Volunteer, donate food

  • First Place Family Center 

1995 Amazon Parkway
Eugene, OR  97405

(541) 342-7728

How to help: Donate money, items, volunteer

  • St. Vincent De Paul

P.O. Box 24608
705 Seneca Road
 Eugene, OR 97402

(541) 687-5820

How to help: Donate money, items, volunteer

  • Egan Warming Center

456 Hwy 99 N Eugene, Oregon 97402


(541) 689-6747

How to help: Donate money, food, items, volunteer

  • Hosea Youth Services

834 Monroe Street  Eugene, OR 97402

(541) 344-5583

How to help: Volunteer, donate money, items

  • White Bird Medical

341 East 12th Avenue Eugene, Oregon 97401

541 342 8255

How to help: Donate money

  • Eugene Mission

1542 West First Avenue, Eugene, OR



How to help: Donate money, items, volunteer

  • Food For Lane County

770 Bailey Hill Road  Eugene, OR 97402

(541) 343-2822

How to help: Donate money, items, volunteer

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