WeShine micro-village bridges gaps between the streets and affordable housing: Season of Sharing 2022

In the two years after she lost everything, a convenience store was Tasha Garcia’s kitchen, a storage unit was her living room, and a tent pitched near Northeast 82nd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard was her bedroom.

So when the 30-year-old moved into the WeShine micro-village in Portland’s Parkrose neighborhood she was grateful — for the locking door and window, the electricity, the microwave and restroom accessible whenever she needed.

But Garcia, a U.S. Navy veteran who grew up in Washington state, is quick to point out the personal touches, too.

“We’re trying to bring back those homey traditions for ourselves and just create our home again,” Garcia said. “We’re trying to be good neighbors.”

Streams of gold and yellow fabric flow from the overhanging porch roof — the same colors as the Los Angeles Lakers lanyard she’s wearing. During a visit on a sunny October day a few weeks before Halloween, a witchy welcome sign invites visitors to sit down “for a spell” on the wood deck chairs outside Garcia’s green-hued cottage.

They’re more than just decorations. For Garcia, it’s a return to normalcy — a sign she, her spouse, and their 10-week-old kitten Luna can celebrate the holidays and dress up for game days, like she did in college.

Garcia is one of the founding members of WeShine village on Northeast Halsey Street at 126th Avenue and works as village life coordinator for the other six residents.

“My goal is to bring whatever it is anybody needs — help and support,” she said.

Founded in January 2021, WeShine’s mission is to open a string of low-barrier tiny house villages offering wraparound services in a neighborhood setting. The nonprofit is dedicated to housing the most vulnerable and underserved living on the streets, including the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities, women, and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

WeShine relied on more than 50 volunteers to plan and hammer together the modular tiny homes designed by a local architect for its first micro-village, which opened in September and will house 12 residents when fully booked. It runs on a shoestring staff.

WeShine, a beneficiary of The Oregonian/OregonLive’s 2022 Season of Sharing holiday fundraising campaign, relies on a mix of donations, in-kind contributions and funding from the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, which has contracted with WeShine to build and operate two villages.

> Donate to WeShine or the Season of Sharing general fund

“The idea is to bridge the gap between camping in inhumane conditions on the street and having access to permanent affordable housing,” said WeShine executive director Jan McManus. “It needs to help people so that when they do get housing, they succeed.”

A retired social worker with 45 years of experience working with marginalized populations, McManus said she “felt a calling” to help establish the nonprofit, which has a total budget of $1.5 million between July 2022 and the end of June 2023.

WeShine is still finalizing details for its second Southeast Portland village, where they plan to focus on serving people with disabilities. But McManus has big plans — envisioning as many as 10 villages to be built in the next few years.

McManus said tiny home communities are crucial for addressing the homelessness crisis now, as affordable housing projects take years or decades to build and finance, while existing dormitory-style shelters can feel unsafe and unwelcoming to many homeless people.

“We need more choices and options for people to get them off the street,” she said. “I think our small size is really helpful for a lot of people. They’re not getting lost in the crowd.”

In the meantime, McManus said the Halsey Street village, which has a two-year lease from a nearby church, will soon be adding showers, toilet and laundry facilities, a kitchenette and a community room once separate building permits are approved by the city. The village has been relying on portable toilets and shower trucks in the interim.

The villagers, who are selected by application, gather weekly for council meetings to address issues and problem solve; McManus has veto power, but so far, she hasn’t had to use it.

The tiny homes themselves come equipped with a bed, sleeping bag, pillows, a footlocker, towels, lighting, electronics charging station, and a heater. Hung from the double-paned windows are fish-patterned curtains handmade by a volunteer.

A tiny detail, to transform a tiny house into a tiny home.

What your donation can do

$50: Provides supplies for decorations, meals, artwork, gardening supplies or craft projects for two villagers for a month.

$100: Pay fees for pet licensing, shots, spaying or neutering, laundry vouchers, ID cards, or for job and housing transition readiness.

$150: Helps WeShine develop and operate additional neighborhood-based villages with services for underserved segments of the unhoused population in the Portland area.

— Zane Sparling; zsparling@oregonian.com; 503-319-7083; @pdxzane

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