Cottage Grove students construct a brighter future for unhoused

March 31 – On a cold winter morning, saws and hammers echoed from Adam Dimock’s Cottage Grove High School shop class. Instead of birdhouses, his students are building a brighter future, helping to construct a homeless shelter for a member of their Lane County community.

“We’ve learned a lot this year, and we’ve grown a lot,” said Dimock. “They’ve taken pride in it; they’ve taken ownership. I’ve had kids want to come in on the weekend to work on it, so there's excitement about it. They like what it represents as far as where these small houses are going and what they’re going to be used for.”

Dimock’s class is one of more than a dozen schools participating in the Constructing a Brighter Future project. The project defines the true meaning of partnership as it builds from an existing network of Lane County educators/school districts, local transitional housing organizations, community-based organizations, industry, and workforce to align and support local housing shortages with a goal of constructing 30 temporary shelters by June 2023. This project focuses on building a county-wide response infrastructure to the local community's preparedness for disaster and emergency housing needs.

Lee Kounovsky, the Construction Trade Sector Specialist at Lane ESD, shared, “I’ve never been so excited to see all of students, learning construction trade skills, while also learning how to volunteer in their communities. These opportunities will lead our students into the future, giving them workplace skills and a pathway to an apprenticeship”. This workforce initiative also introduces young people to the multiple career pathways in high-wage/high-demand construction trades work. It provides them with hands-on, work-based learning opportunities to demonstrate and refine these new skills for possible future employment.

“We’re learning so much, and we’re getting skills employable so that we can get jobs later,” said Grant Barnes, Cottage Grove High School Senior. “It makes me feel connected with everything because we’re giving back to people in need.”

Over the summer, Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers from 15 Lane County School Districts met at Lane Community College with SquareOne and Everyone Village builders/designers for side-by-side training learning how to build finished single-room transitional shelters from approved plans. The shelters

include a bed, desk, electricity, heat and other standard housing appliances. The CTE instructors then took the construction plans to their respective classrooms and led students through the process.

“I feel like a lot of these kids have taken ownership,” added Dimock. “Some have even come to me and said I really enjoy this. Maybe construction is a route I would like to go in the future.”

The Cottage Grove shelter will be finished in the next couple of months and will be delivered to one of the shelter participants.

Kevin Martin is on the list for one of the shelters.

“I come from living in a van for the last four years on the west side of Eugene, so having to move all the time versus something that’s permanently there… it means all the world,” said Martin. “It's just a pallet house, but it makes me feel prouder every day.”

The cost of creating one temporary shelter is estimated to be $8,000. The state’s limited funding for construction classes cannot fully support the project; therefore, alternative funding sources are being sought. The Roundhouse Foundation has contributed $25,000 towards the project and Oregon Community Foundation has contributed $10,000. Lane CTE is currently seeking additional funding to match the contribution.

“I would never have expected to have something like this in a school environment,” said Barnes. “It makes me feel good because last year we did a bunch of little projects, and that was fun, but this has been something that is really good, especially for the future and helping out someone else feels really good.”

A community coming together to construct walls, create a home and hopefully open doors to brighten our futures for everyone involved.