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Join us for the Third Annual Outdoor Singalong — This Saturday

December 13th, 2019 by dk

The most important part of your house is your front door. Thanks to that slab on hinges, you get to decide what stays in and what goes out. Everything else in your house is like the middle of a toothpick. It has good reason to be there, but it’s not really the point.

Once somebody passes through your doorway, all the rules change. If they are invited guests, the host’s generosity kicks into high gear. “Let me take your hat and coat.” “Can I get you something to drink?” “What sort of music do you like?”

If, on the other hand, that person has not been invited in, they instantly become an intruder, a criminal, a threat. We rely on that front door to delineate this difference. Knowing who’s in and who’s out is a huge part of feeling safe in the world.

Now imagine your life with nothing removed but that front door. You’d have no way to keep your heat in and strangers out. Everything you consider yours would be yours only on an interim basis. Whatever hasn’t already been taken still could be, if you don’t remain constantly vigilant, including while you sleep. Every day. All the time.

If the unhoused you see on the street or in the library seem exhausted to you, this is a big part of it. Even during moments of relative calm when they feel safe, they can’t be sure their stuff is.

Community Supported Shelters decided to tackle this challenge of homelessness in an unconventional way. In my mind, their Conestoga Huts have pushed the boundary for housing in an important new direction. They provide residents with a front door — and very little else. They’ve shaved most of the middle out of the toothpick.

Inside, there’s room for a bed and maybe a dresser. There’s no water or electricity. There’s no heat, but blankets stay dry with a roof made of PVC pipe and plastic sheeting. Each structure costs less than $3,000 to build, using common materials and basic tools. For some people, for a while, this pre-housing option is enough.

Would you like to see how they are used and meet some people living in them? You’re in luck.

There’s no better use for a front door than to swing it open, inviting others in. For the third year, this Saturday evening, Nightingale Hosted Shelters at 3500 Hilyard Street in south Eugene will host a drop-in holiday singalong around a fire kettle in their parking lot. Hot chocolate and music sheets will be provided, but everything else will come from those who show up. I can say from past experience, there’s always enough.

This rest stop for the unhoused has grown from six to 20 huts over the past few years. More importantly, the residents have become a community, supporting one another and reaching out to neighbors.

Come exchange cookies and stories, between 5 PM and 7 PM tomorrow night. Take a tour of the huts. Donate some woolen socks if you’d like. Dress for the weather. Enjoy neighborliness and neighbors. I guarantee you’ll return home, loving your front door like never before.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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