It’s May 24th, 2016 and I’m recording an interview with Kristin Fay de Buhr. And we’re going to get a short summary of what you do.
My husband and I operate a non-profit called Community Supported Shelters [website at http://www.communitysupportedshelters.org] which provides transitional shelter and community for people who are unhoused. We have two programs. The Conestoga Hut micro shelter program [where we build tiny shelters] that are placed at churches and we also run three Safe Spot communities on city property that are for up to twenty people each for the unhoused. All in Eugene, Oregon.
And what in your past, do you think, led you to your present work?
[Sighs] Feeling OK in myself. I tried working in regular 9 to 5 jobs and it was soul sucking. Working for other people. I’m just really sensitive and so I couldn’t really manage that. And also having a lot of personal belongings has always felt really stressful for me. So I guess when my first son was really young, I just decided to start getting rid of stuff. Just moving more toward a smaller lifestyle? And my great aunt, I think that my Great Aunt Fay had a lot to do with teaching me about compassion and loving anybody and everybody that needs help. So that’s had an impact on my life and I use that all the time in my work.
And when Erik and I met we were both living at Maitreya Ecovillage in a shared community environment [in Eugene] and I had been doing community work also with a new culture group doing personal growth work and, and the more that I was uncovering myself the more I realized I just needed less and less in my life to be happy? So then Erik and I met and all of this just sorta happened. We didn’t really plan for it. Our lifestyle brought us to the work because the conventional, traditional lifestyle that most people live didn’t meet our needs. And where we were moving towards?
So we were living at Maitreya Ecovillage. Like an intimate neighborhood where there’s three city lots and lots of different types of dwellings from a triplex [three living units in one building] down to tiny little huts on a property and people share common space. And gardening and things like that.
Do you come from an affluent background?
I would say our family was middle class? My dad owned a Chevron station growing up. And my parents divorced when I was six. So, he had a Chevron station and my mom remarried and we had animals growing up. We always had a big house. Three sisters, one stepsister, two blood sisters. And so we always had, you know, houses to live in, we always had what we needed, food and clothes, things like that. Although my parents always said they never had any money.
They were always broke. We always seemed to have what we needed. So, I think I learned a lot just from them always saying like, we don’t have any extra money? [laughs] My sisters and I learned to be really resourceful. And I remember my Grandma would save the wrapping paper and all the bows and ribbons? And then even with the ribbons she would make new bows. And she did a lot of re-use. So, I grew up around that.
Did she live with you?
No. I never lived with my grandparents or my aunts or uncles or anything like that. So. Yeah. I guess somewhere in the middle class. [laughs] Although my dad, he and his [second] wife, he worked for Chevron for 40 plus years. Built this huge multi-million dollar house on five acres. And then Chevron didn’t renew his lease and then he couldn’t afford to keep his place and it went into foreclosure. And now he lives in a mobile home and he tells me how he is so inspired by our small life. And that now he understands like having less really is having more. [laughs] Yeah. I love to tell that story!
So, you said before that you had done other kinds of work
Yeah. My main work that sustained me was I worked from home for a guy who did telecommunication sales to hotels? So, I could set my own hours and I had a lot of flexibility. But I still didn’t really believe in supporting big fancy hotels?
So then I started in southern Oregon [during my first marriage] when we moved here in ’97 with our son, we moved to Sunny Valley and I took a job at the school. I was involved with this program called the Oregon Parent Center which was a non-profit that supported poor families in the community. By doing parenting education and teaching people how to cook and talking about how to get along with your spouse and how to deal with your anger with your children and things like that. I really thrived in that because I got to bring lots of people from the community that had skills into the groups to share what they had with the families.
And then I guess it was in 2001, I had left my husband of sixteen years ith my son and I moved to Eugene and I got involved with this group called Network for New Culture. I helped organize their annual summer camps which were two-week camps in the woods focused on personal growth. And boundaries. And communication skills and different things like that. I was really involved in that for a while. I learned a lot about myself. And then in 2006 I opened, I co-opened a café with this woman, Sherry, and I ran that with her for a few years.
Until I got pregnant with Abram. [soft laugh] I met Erik and we got pregnant so then I couldn’t, you know, I was 44 and I couldn’t really keep up the pace of running a small café cause it was just the two of us. And so I …
You were probably sort of surprised that you got pregnant, too.
Kind of and kind of not. Spirit had been telling me for a long time I was gonna have another child with a younger man. I just didn’t really.. [laughs] sometimes you don’t always listen to what you’re being told. So when I met Erik — we met at Maitreya Ecovillage– we just became one, like instantly. I just feel like the Lord threw us together and so then we were pregnant and I was like, “I can’t do this work anymore,” and he was working for a media company downtown and he didn’t wanna do that anymore, so we started this business called Resurrected Refuse Action Team. We were living at Maitreya and we would dumpster dive useable materials, mostly wood, and clean it up and then we would repurpose it into these shelters called Icosa Huts.
And so we were building Icosa Huts. They’re, they’re about a ten foot round footprint, 90 to 100 square feet. We were building those in people’s yards who wanted to have more communal living on their property but they didn’t want to go get permits and things like that. [Since they were so small, no permits were required.] So, they could have these accessory dwellings on their properties. We were building those for people and leading workshops.
You’ve done a lot of stuff that has to do with organizing people and I can see it’s all been training for what you do now.
It has been. Yes. Organizing people. Organizing stuff. Yeah. With Resurrected Refuse we never really made any money but some friends of ours came to an event that we had. We used to have these Breathing Workshops cause we would breathe and weave we would call them. People would get together and weave industrial scraps together? That we would collect from the waste stream and make baskets and handbags and different things.
This couple came one time and they were really inspired by what we were doing and they’re millionaires and so when we found — we’d been looking for another place to move cause we were outgrowing Maitreya. And this warehouse right by where we lived came up for sale and so our friends purchased it for us. Which is where we are now. And where our non-profit, Community Supported Shelters, is. But we weren’t Community Supported Shelters for a few years. [soft laugh]
After we bought that, we were living there and we had two buses in the backyard. A family in one and a single guy in another. So, we went through this phase and we did a lot of living communally with different people in the space. Sharing the kitchen, basically, and the bathrooms and stuff.
Now, you mentioned to me that you had been trying to improve what you were putting online in way of communications about what you were doing and you needed a videographer.
Yeah, Erik and Pujita, our office manager, and I, we have meetings once a month downtown and at one of our meetings we said, “Wow. We really need a videographer so that we can get some footage of the camps and capture some of these stories.”
So we were all like, Yeah! We’re gonna find somebody! And we come back to our office after our meeting and we walk in the door and there’s a couple from Vancouver, Canada and they’re like, “Hi! We’re videographers! And we wanna record what you’re doing and share it on public television!” And so now we have these amazing videos that he did — he did two videos for us, free of charge. He was so grateful to do ‘em. He put ‘em on public television in Canada. He lives in Vancouver, Canada where there’s a real big homeless problem, too. Eastside Vancouver. And like now he’s one of our best pals, him and his wife, Susan. Yeah. You just have to ask for what you need and it comes.
That sounds like a pretty satisfying experience, can you talk about some others that have been quite wonderful for you or less wonderful for you?
Yeah, probably the most rewarding part of the work is really the relationships, and learning people’s stories that come in that are unhoused? And how they became unhoused and then being able to support them in getting stable again.
So, there’s one fellow that came to us, he’d never been homeless but his daughter died. And he was just really low and hadn’t ever really been able to recover and he’d been a truck driver his whole life and now he was homeless and he came to us. We were able to give him a place and it just changed him. He had never been able to ask for help but him coming through our door and just saying, you know, “I need something different than what I’m doing now.” Him asking for help, and us being able to provide what he needed — I mean I have countless stories of that, just being able to support people.
A lot of times people come to us with physical ailments and they need surgery and being able to find a place for them to have respite? Until they can get into our program? It’s always really satisfying. So, it’s all about the relationships for me with these folks in our program and the people that come to apply to our program. Everyone’s story is so unique and special and it’s very interesting.
When things get rough what sustains you?
Well, I do a lot of singing and toning. Just making sounds in a quiet place usually. Spending time with my family. Playing games is helpful. Yahtzee or usually some kind of board game. We’re really into this game called Karkason right now. And it’s just fun. It just kind of takes us out of our normal routine and we play games together. I also like to work out. I just joined a gym a few months ago. Which is something I did in my twenties. That really helps. And meditation. And always eating a good, balanced diet? Just so that I can maintain my internal balance is really important.
Now, can you cook very well there?
Yeah, we have a little tiny kitchen in our office space. It works fine. And I cook for the campers sometimes — that’s also really rewarding. They come to our office and we provide them a meal or someone provides a meal for them and we get to hang out and just, you know, serve them? Before they go and do service in the community, working in the city parks. So that’s really rewarding, too.
I think it’s so wonderful that you don’t just house people [generally for no more than ten months] you give them an opportunity to be part of the larger community and to build up their own skills and their own confidence and their ability to interact with people in a healthy way.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s so needed. I mean, yeah. People are broken.
Well, I think, actually I’ve covered everything I needed to cover. Do you have anything else you want to add to this?
Yeah. I just wanted to say that I never really considered myself an activist. I just consider myself a compassionate, loving, caring individual. I think we all have that within ourselves. We don’t have to label ourselves but if we care about family or friends, then we can extend that to people that we don’t know as well.