Safe Camp and SafePlace FAQs
Q: What is Safe Camp?
A: Safe Camp is a site located on property of the First Congregational Church of Corvallis that offers shelter, through camping sites and microshelters, to people who are unhoused. The idea is that Safe Camp, as the name implies, offers a safe place where people legally can settle, begin to receive services, and get placed in the pipeline for more permanent housing.
Q: What drove the initial push to create Safe Camp?
A: Safe Camp launched in the summer of 2019, when an illegal camp in the tree farm adjacent to the church’s property was cleared at the request of the landowner, who seeks to have it annexed into the city and developed. Some of the uprooted campers gathered at the nearby First Congregational Church, literally in the parking lot, wondering where they would go next. As the church and other advocates for people without homes rallied to help the campers, Safe Camp, the first site for SafePlace, was created on the church property.
Illegal camps for the houseless have been an issue in Corvallis for decades, and the pattern hasn’t changed: When authorities shut down one of the camps, the residents move to another location, and the cycle continues. There has been no place in the county or city where the unhoused legally can camp.
Safe Camp has been structured to break that cycle. The idea is to give the unhoused a safe place; this allows camp managers, mentors, social service agencies and others an opportunity to connect campers with essential services, including transitional housing. Safe Camp managers and volunteers believe consistent access to those services will help move campers into more stable housing, and this already has occurred in a number of instances.
Q: What is SafePlace?
A: SafePlace is a new program providing transitional housing in or near the parking lots of participating faith-based organizations; Safe Camp at the First Congregational Church is part of SafePlace, but SafePlace extends beyond the church. The goal of SafePlace is to assist individuals, couples, and families in housing transition by providing a safe and legal environment for temporary housing coupled with case management services and peer support.
Q: Are other churches involved in the SafePlace program?
A: At this writing, two other churches, the Corvallis Evangelical Church and the First United Methodist Church, have become SafePlace sites, and microshelters (structures about the size of a garden shed large enough to sleep an individual, a couple or a single parent with children) have been placed at both churches. These microshelters are electrically heated and come with locking doors, smoke alarms, carbon dioxide alarms and fire extinguishers. The goal is to enlist additional churches in the Safe Place effort.
Q: Who will be allowed to stay in the microshelters?
A: The current idea is to use the microshelters (at both Safe Camp and the other SafePlace locations) to house people who are determined to be medically fragile, an idea that was prompted by the coronavirus outbreak. (As of April 23, none of the residents of Safe Camp had tested positive for the coronavirus; residents are being encouraged to practice social distancing and to follow other precautions.) City and county officials have approved using the microshelters for this purpose; in the case of the microshelters at the Methodist and Evangelical churches, officials have given the OK for these shelters to be occupied until early July.
Q: Who has built the microshelters?
A: The microshelters are being built with generous donations for materials and the donated labor of local contractors.
Q: Will Safe Camp continue to have a mixture of camp sites and the microshelters?
A: Yes. First Congregational remains committed to providing temporary, transitional housing as part of its fundamental faith mission. Safe Camp will continue to offer a mixture of microshelters and camping sites. As Safe Camp residents move on into more permanent housing, other houseless residents will be invited to apply for spots in the camp. All residents will receive supportive services to help them make the transition to permanent housing.
Q: How many guests are living at Safe Camp now?
A: Seven, as of April 23. The expectation is that more people will apply to live at Safe Camp as the weather warms, and camp managers have been working to revamp the application process for potential camp residents.
Q: Is there a limit to the number of people who will be able to live at Safe Camp?
A: Yes. No more than 21 people will be able to live at Safe Camp, divided between the microshelters on site and the area reserved for camp sites.
Q: Are there indications that Safe Camp and SafePlace will help its residents transition into more stable housing?
A: Yes. Eight of the original residents have moved out of Safe Camp and into housing. All Safe Camp residents have been added to the waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers. In addition, Safe Camp residents are connecting with health care services and the Oregon Health Plan, with the assistance of Benton County health navigators. Some residents have started to participate in drug and alcohol addiction programs.
Q: Who is managing SafePlace and Safe Camp?
A: For Safe Camp, church leaders formed an internal leadership team and also convened a community steering committee comprised of leaders from other churches, local nonprofits (including the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition’s Housing Action Team, Corvallis Housing First, Room at the Inn and the Men’s Shelter), and individuals with valuable experience to help guide day-to-day operations and also the path forward. The SafePlace effort evolved from this latter group.
First Congregational has hired a camp liaison/manager for Safe Camp, who works out of an office that has been set up in one of the microshelters on the site. Managers at the First United Methodist Church, the location of the Room at the Inn shelter for women, are helping to run the microshelters at that church. Leaders at the Corvallis Evangelical Church are helping with the microshelter at that location.
Q: How did SafePlace leaders decide how to develop this program?
A: When reviewing the many local programs that already exist to assist people who don’t have stable housing, transitional housing was determined to be a gap. SafePlace was inspired by Opportunity Village in Eugene. Collaboration with other area programs is a core aspect of SafePlace. Its guidelines, code of conduct, and intake procedures all draw upon ones used by other successful programs.
Q: Are residents at Safe Camp and in the SafePlace microshelters required to pass a background check?
A: Yes. Campers with outstanding warrants must clear them before they can stay in Safe Camp or in one of the microshelters. And campers agree to abide by a code of conduct, which is being revised and expanded.
Q: Isn’t Safe Camp attracting houseless people from outside the mid-valley?
A: No. The vast majority of camp residents have ties to the area.
Q: Who’s paying for Safe Camp?
A: To date, the program has been funded through the First Congregational Church and the Housing Action Team of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, along with donations from members of the public.
Q: How can I donate to Safe Camp or SafePlace?
A: If you’re interested in contributing to Safe Camp or SafePlace or to help build additional microshelters, information on how to donate can be found at these sites: Our Giving page and through the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition’s website, (Be sure to specify whether your donations are for Safe Camp, SafePlace or microshelter construction.)
Q: What is Unity Shelter?
A: Unity Shelter is the umbrella organization that will include programs designed to provide safe shelter through collaborative care, such as SafePlace, the Mens Shelter, Room at the Inn and future programs that fit into Unity Shelter's vision or mission. Each of these programs will have its own leadership team and staff, but Unity Shelter will serve as the overarching fiscal agent for each of the programs.
Q: What is the status of the application from First Congregational to Benton County for a conditional use permit for Safe Camp?
A: A hearing before the county Planning Commission has been postponed twice because of the coronavirus outbreak. It likely will be held either the last week of May or the first week of June, although a firm date has not yet been set.
Q: What is the church asking for from the county?
A: The church proposes to use the 1.35 acres of its property that is in the county as part of its Safe Camp ministry.
Q: Didn’t the county already approve Safe Camp?
A: Yes, temporarily. But county officials also asked the church to apply for the conditional use permit, and the church has done so.
Q: When the hearing finally occurs, what will the Planning Commission be focused on?
A: By law, members of the commission can consider only three criteria as they consider the application: First, does the proposed use of the land seriously interfere with uses on adjacent property, with the character of the area or the purpose of the planning zone? (The land in question here is zoned Urban Residential.) Second, does the proposed use impose an undue burden on public improvements, facilities, utilities or services available to the area? Third, does the proposed use comply with any additional criteria which may be required by code regulations? (This third criterion does not apply in this case, since the code itself does not include any additional criteria.)
Q: Could the commission ask for conditions as part of issuing a permit?
A: Yes – and the church already has proposed a variety of conditions that it believes will improve the safety and comfort of Safe Camp residents and its neighbors. For example, the church will cap the maximum number of residents at Safe Camp at 21, divided between tents and microshelters. (At this writing, Safe Camp has seven guests; by contrast, when Safe Camp began in July after the illegal camp site adjacent to the church property was cleared by law enforcement officials, the camp had 23 residents.) The conditions proposed by the church also call for residents to sign a code of conduct; failure to adhere to the code of conduct can lead to a guest’s eviction from Safe Camp. (Residents now must sign a code of conduct, which has been substantially revised since July, and guests have been evicted for code violations.) Other conditions are designed to address fire safety concerns – for example, each camping site and microshelter will be equipped with a fire extinguisher. (For more on the conditions to which the church has agreed, read the church’s supplemental materials to the conditional use application, on the county’s website at http://bit.ly/2xeWYSW)
Q: What about law enforcement concerns regarding Safe Camp?
A: Safe Camp leaders believe many of these concerns reflect the law enforcement experience in dealing with illegal camping in locations such as the tree farm property adjacent to Safe Camp. Law enforcement in the county has much less experience working with a managed camp situation such as Safe Camp. Safe Camp leaders believe a managed camp in which residents must adhere to a code of conduct, and where those residents can access necessary services, is safer (and easier for officers to deal with) than what has been the county’s status quo: A series of illegal camps that spring up throughout the city and county with a constantly shifting population.
Safe Camp managers harbor no illusions that the facility by itself will end these illegal camps throughout the city and county; after all, the illegal camp in the forested property adjacent to the church property has been active, on and off, for 20 years. But Safe Camp managers believe the facility offers a better option than these illegal camps – both for camp residents and for the community.
Q: How can I learn more about the permit application and the hearing?
A: Information about the hearing (and links to documents that have been filed with the Benton County Planning Department by the church and others) can be accessed at this website.
Q: Can I offer testimony for the Planning Commission?
A: Yes. Members of the public will be allowed to testify at the hearing and also can submit written testimony. The deadline for written testimony will hinge on the hearing’s rescheduled date. Written testimony received before the Planning Commission meeting will be shared with commission members. Only comments addressing the three applicable code criteria (as listed above) can be considered by the commission.
Q: How can I find out more about Safe Camp and SafePlace?
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