Overnight Parking Program helps campers, landowners alike
Author: SVdP Staff
Date: Monday, June 25 2012
St. Vinnie's Overnight Parking Program has 23 spaces and 65 campers waiting. Additional spaces are needed in Eugene and now Springfield. Can you help? Call Keith Heath, 541-461-8688.
Sandwiched between a busy highway and a residential neighborhood is Jim and Robert’s little piece of heaven: A tidy lot that accommodates two, sometimes three, RV’s and three meticulously tended gardens, with romping space left over for two good dogs.
Jim, Robert and their immediate neighbors are participants in St. Vinnie’s Overnight Parking Program (OPP), which allows individuals 18 and older to camp on designated spaces owned by the City of Eugene, or on privately owned commercial or industrial property.
As of this summer, the OPP is being expanded into Springfield. Spaces are needed there, and more are needed in and around Eugene.
|Keith Heath supervises 23 OPP sites and could utilize 65 more.|
“The sky’s the limit,” said Program Manager Keith Heath. “We need more spaces for people to park longer term.”
Jim and Robert are disabled veterans in their mid-50’s and roommates for more than a year. They do not consider themselves down and out, just two self-reliant guys who needed a place to stay.
They found it in the OPP, which currently has 23 spaces and a waiting list of 65. Most needed are sites on private property where campers can stay longer than the 90 days allowed on publicly owned sites.
Campers are placed on business, institution and church parking lots, and on undeveloped property. A given site can have up to three units on a paved or gravel surface. Campers must be 18 or older and generally need a vehicle although one site has a tent camper.
While no rent can be exchanged, campers do keep an eye on things. In return, some property owners offer access to water and/or electricity.
A few have even offered jobs, and that’s the OPP at its best, according to the manager. “Its an opportunity for our clients and really builds their self-esteem,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of people who were hired and then saved enough money to be able to buy a vehicle.”
Originally from Pleasant Hill, Jim had known about the OPP for years but “didn’t have anything to park.” Three years ago a friend gave him the motorhome, and eventually Keith Heath said he had “just the spot,” meaning the dogs could be there, too.
The vegetation was knee high then, but with the owner’s help and the hard work of the campers, it’s almost park-like. A patio umbrella and concrete base were gifts from other friends.
As younger men they were laborers, Robert in foundry work and fabrication, and Jim in construction and shipyards. They doubt anyone would hire them now, and they’re grateful for the modest VA benefits that permit them to live comfortably.
“There are things that you can do to make life easier,” Robert explained. “Even when I was living under a tree I lived more comfortably than most people living under trees.”
Utilizing food pantries isn’t one of them even though St. Vinnie’s Atkinson Food Room is close by.
“There are people in a whole lot more need than me,” Robert said. “There’s more people every week and less stuff. Times are tough everywhere.”
So last year they tried gardening. With the property owner’s blessing they planted a variety of vegetables and were amazed by their crop of cucumbers. This year they added a second plot and can’t wait to share the bounty with friends and St. Vinnie’s Food Room.
“We’re trying to help ourselves eat better,” Robert said. “It’s all organic. No chemicals.”
The third garden? It’s of the decorative rock type, surrounded by potted flowers. Robert says it’s for meditation purposes, another example of comfortable living.
That and being free of the worries associated with living on the street: Finding storage for stuff, staying safe, avoiding police, and wondering where to sleep.
“That’s one of the heavier worries: Where will I be tonight?” Robert said.
For their part, Jim and Robert provide consistent security for the property owner. “And we don’t let people stand and (vandalize) the wall,” declared Jim, nodding toward an adjacent vacant building.
They fill spare time with books, puzzles, Cribbage and games with the dogs.
They know that passers-by draw their own conclusions but are quick to add that not everyone who’s homeless fits a stereotype.
“Some people choose to be,” Robert said. “Maybe it’s circumstances they got caught up in somehow and their coping abilities aren’t as good as others…
“Compassion is what I would like the world to know. Walk a mile in a person’s shoes before you make a judgment.”