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'You take care of Jesus': Corvallis church helps homeless despite angry neighbors, legal confusion

"Safe Camp" is a village that serves as a tangible representation of the church’s newfound mission: to help Benton County’s homeless.

Maggie Vespa

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Shrouded in the pinkish hue of the rush hour's setting sun, car after car cruised by the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Thursday.

Suddenly, one let out a honk.

"That’s not a supportive honk," said Reverend Jen Butler.

The senior minister was standing in the Corvallis church's front lawn.

Behind her a large, white banner nailed to the building's facade offered the first clue as to what she was talking about.

It read: "HOW CAN WE WORSHIP A HOMELESS MAN ON SUNDAY AND IGNORE HIM ON MONDAY?"

From the road, the weatherproof banner is, by design, easy to see.

The tents, tarps and homeless men and women living in them, though, are camouflaged by the wooded area just west of the church’s main driveway.

Dubbed "Safe Camp," the months-old village serves as a tangible representation of the church's newfound mission to help Benton County's homeless.

"I don't think any of us imagined becoming real players," Butler said of the issue. "We had no idea there were that many people in the forest."

Credit: Maggie Vespa
Reverend Butler said the church’s newfound mission is to help Benton County’s homeless.