Eugene artist contributes to Youth House effort


Former member of church congregation designs unique poster for St. Vinnie’s project

It was difficult for some members of the Cascade-Presbyterian Church to leave their long-time home in south Eugene and to move downtown but that decision has been eased by the knowledge that St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County’s plans to turn the former church property into a refuge that will provide housing and social services for homeless high school students.

Now called the City Church and meeting Sunday mornings at the Hi-Fi Music Hall, the church has maintained a close relationship with St. Vinnie’s as the nonprofit moves forward with plans to remodel the 8,000-square-foot building at 3350 Willamette Street and open its doors to its first student-residents in late 2017.

“We feel great about what is happening with the church,” says Heather Schulte, a Eugene artist who attends the City Church with her husband and three children. “We’re excited to see that our former home will still have an impact on the community and will help its young people to thrive.”

Shortly after St. Vincent de Paul purchased the church last year, Schulte contacted Paul Neville, St. Vincent de Paul’s Director of Public Relations and a lead administrator on the SVDP Youth House project, and volunteered her services to help the church raise money for the remodel. She offered to design a poster that explains the project’s mission and asks people to contribute.

“Heather had developed a really interesting artistic concept, one that showed the journey of a teen from homelessness and despair to hope and healing – and, ultimately, moving on to a successful adult life,” Neville says.

The result was a vibrant and unusual poster that will soon be on display in businesses and public areas throughout the Eugene-Springfield area. Under the heading “Room to Grow,” it shows homeless teens sleeping on the street and then finding housing and support at the Youth House. The final frame shows a youth marching with a diploma held high at a high school graduation. The entire journey occurs within the outline of the building that for many years was Schulte’s church home, the Cascade-Presbyterian Church.

“I just believe in St. Vincent de Paul’s mission in creating the Youth House,” Schulte said. “The poster is a way I can participate and promote positive change in our community.

When it opens in late 2017, the facility will provide up to two years of free housing and social services to homeless high school students from the Eugene, Springfield and Willamette school districts. In exchange, student-residents must agree to remain in school until they graduate. The number of high school students in the Eugene-Springfield area – and Oregon – has increased in recent years. State officials estimate there are more than 21,000 homeless students in Oregon’s public schools, a number that has surged over the past three years. The Eugene School District had 810 homeless students enrolled during the 2015-16 school year compared with 722 the year before. The Bethel School District reported more than 524 homeless students enrolled in 2015-16 – a nearly 2 percent jump over the previous year.

On any given night in the Eugene-Springfield area, an estimated 400 homeless high school students ages 16 to 18 struggle to find a place to sleep. “Some of them end up couch-surfing at friends’ homes and some end up on the streets where they are vulnerable to violence, drugs and a thriving human-trafficking trade along the I-5 corridor,” Neville said.

“This is a drastically underserved population that has few public or private resources available to them,” Neville said, adding that studies show that high school dropouts are six times more likely to end up in prison and three times more likely to be unemployed than those who graduate.

When the Youth House opens in December 2017, it will include a community space, kitchen, laundry, counseling office and computer lab. A resident manager will live on site, and students will be assigned a mentor who will commit to working with his or her assigned youth for at least a full year. A full-time casework services manager will help youth connect to social services and work with students to create individualized life plans. St. Vincent de Paul’s partners in this project include Hosea Youth Services, local school districts, the 15th Night coalition and Directions.

Supporters can contribute on line through St. Vinnie’s secure website at http://www.svdp.us; mail checks designated “Youth House” to SVDP, 2890 Chad Drive, Eugene, OR 97408, or call Neville at 541 743-7121 or Paula Berry at 541 743-7144. To request a presentation about this project or for more information, call 541 743-7121 or email paul.neville@svdp.us. Also, check us out on Facebook at “SVDP Youth House” and on the Web at http://www.svdp.us/homeless-youth.

(For more information, contact Paul Neville, director of public relations at St. Vincent de Paul, at 458 210-8094 or paul.neville@svdp.us.)