Community Church of Sebastopol builds huts for unhoused safe parkers
By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, October 20, 2021
Creating shelter and sanctuary for homeless individuals is ever the struggle but never the surprise in Sonoma County, but the Community Church of Sebastopol decided one need look no further than the parking lot to put up a roof.
Volunteers all but finished constructing two conestoga huts at its Gravenstein Highway North address over the weekend. Both have a bed, a door and a key to lock up one’s belongings as part of the church’s Safe Parking program, said Peggy Porter, chair of the church’s outreach team.
Currently, the church allows five vehicles to park overnight and provides the people living in them a code to access the church’s showers and bathrooms, in addition to limited use of a kitchen, according to team member Judy Davison.
The team hopes to move someone into a hut by mid-November once West County Community Services (WCCS) vets candidates, likely starting with two of the five safe parkers already staying in the lot overnight, Davison said.
“This is just our church, the outreach committee looking into needs of the unsheltered population in Sonoma and wanting to give this a try to see if this would work,” she said. “And maybe be a model for other places, other churches — a lot of churches with big parking spaces that they could certainly put some of these up in.”
The team wanted to do more for its unhoused community members and found special inspiration in the conestoga huts of Community Supported Shelters in Eugene, Oregon. Porter visited years ago, and for the past two years, the team sought the go-ahead from the church’s neighbors and the city.
They clinched a temporary five-year permit to construct the huts as a pilot project, Davison said, and on Oct. 15 and 16, church volunteers came out to assemble huts with the same building plans as the ones she saw in Oregon.
“Apparently, having a place where they can lock a door on their belongings and lay down to sleep and stand to dress has made a huge difference for people without shelters,” Porter said. “As far as being able to get a job and getting on to a better life, it’s made a huge difference to the people up in Oregon, so I’m hoping it will for our folks, too.”
According to Davison, the huts still need some painting and the team is waiting for some parts to ship down from Oregon so they can completely secure the roofs from rain, covering the top with tarps for now.
“Our intent is that people will only stay in them a year and work with our social workers to get into housing within that year,” Porter said, referring to WCCS staff. She said the organization will be partnering with the Community Church of Sebastopol to provide case management.
The temporary shelters come with “strict” rules, Davison said, “and these people also have to be actively working with a community organization for more permanent housing.”
The huts are for sleeping and storing things and provide no heating or electricity, she said. No smoking or parties are allowed, although the church is still open for the individuals’ specific needs.
Already, church volunteers and Sebastopol Police Department staff drive by at night to check that things are going smoothly with the Safe Parking program and ensure no one they haven’t vetted for the program is there, she said.
The church has a secluded area in the back of the parking lot near some trees, she said, and a parking space between the two huts. Each hut costs about $2,500, and while the team fundraised, one donor gave enough funds to pay for one of them entirely, she added.
Davison recalled the large encampment by Stony Point Road and Highway 12. “And it just seemed so sad, and we heard more about it and we just thought, well, let’s just see what we can do just in our small little way and see if it works and maybe spread the news and see if other people want to do the same thing.”
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