"As the days lengthen in the Northern Hemisphere, and we approach the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, the first signs of new life are emerging from the earth.
I have spent many hours in the past two weeks getting to know unhoused folks at four "Safe Spot" camps here in Eugene. My job is to support our residents in cultivating intentional community to facilitate healing from the trauma of homelessness and create conditions favorable to remaining in long-term housing.
One young man, in his 20s, stands out to me. Shy and soft-spoken, this fellow grew up on a ranch in Texas. While I don"t know the particulars of how he ended up on the streets of Eugene, I do know that he takes pride in his job, rides a push scooter regardless of the weather, and enjoys tending to five small garden beds, 1 foot x 3 feet in size, within the confines of the chainlink fence that surrounds his Safe Spot community.
After regaling me with stories of how locals have egged their shelters, jumped over the fence at 3 am, and keyed their cars, it became clear to me that the fence and locked gates serve to protect the unhoused from the housed population at these sites, and not the other way around.
I inquired about three tiny garden beds arranged in the shape of a triangle next to this young man"s hut, a small sanctuary of soil atop the slab of gray concrete that this community calls home.
These small beds don"t look like much, but the young man spoke of growing parsley last year, how he enjoyed pouring a cup of water on the plants in the heat of summer, and how he"d like to grow some new things this year.
Then he brightened: had I seen the garden beds over by the gate? I hadn"t and walked over to find dozens of garlic shoots filling two small garden beds.
"Those are from last year," he said, happily, and I realized that these shoots represented the possibility of new life after death. He had watched the garlic shoots die back last year, chose not to harvest the bulbs, and is enjoying the first signs of new life emerging from the soil during the winter, a time of year that is especially hard on the unhoused.
While this young man enjoys the safety a fence and a locking door provide, his temporary shelter doesn"t have electricity. Living without heat, the dark and cold of these months take their toll on the body, yes, but even more on the spirit.
My friend tending to his small gardens in a sea of concrete speaks of so many things, like the wisdom and folly of cultivating intentional community among the unhoused on these unforgiving streets as well as the healing power of tending to small pockets of life wherever we are, whatever our life circumstances."