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Eugene high school students build tiny homes for homeless people

The goal of the project is to build 30 of the 8x16-foot transitional housing units before the end of the school term.

EUGENE, Ore. — The loud snap of nail guns echoed through the Lane County Community College woodworking warehouse on a recent afternoon. It was last class of the day for a group of high school students building transitional housing units for people experiencing homelessness in Eugene.

"These structures are to help people experiencing homelessness to try and get them up on their feet, out of the streets that kind of stuff," explained Fiona Clark, the only girl in the class. "I knew that it would be harder because I didn’t expect many women to be in this class, but I thought that it might be really cool."

She and many of the other students describe the homeless crisis as being hard to miss in Eugene.

"Every day I see probably like 10 to 15 people," said Madison Akuma, another student in a class.

"It makes me sad because I have had people in my family who have experienced homelessness and it’s really rough," added Clark.

It’s tough situation that the students are trying to change with the help of woodworking teachers like Peter Whiebe.

"These young people are thoughtful and engaging and more involved and invested than they’re often given credit for," Whiebe said.

Clark and Akuma's class is one of about 15 participating woodworking classes in Lane County, all building tiny homes for homeless people as part of a project called "Constructing a Brighter Future." 

The classes use donated materials from a local nonprofit that specializes in transitional housing. The goal is to build 30 of the 8-by-16-foot units before the end of the term. Clark and Akuma's class was tasked with finishing one of them.

"I was surprised a school program could do something like this," said Akuma.

"The fact that we’re able to do something that will literally help a person or a family it feels good. That feels a lot better than just being angry and frustrated," added Whiebe.

The program is teaching students more than just the basics of building.

"We’re teaching these students some amazing life skills… It’s something that they can feel proud of. It's something that means something rather than building for the sake of building," said Wheylin Niehus, the other build instructor.

The finished unit will be insulated, wired for electricity and equipped with a lock.

"It’s about the small things," said Clark. "Just doing small things with a group of people can make a big difference."

Constructing a Brighter Future is looking for more financial support for similar future projects, and the woodworking students said they want to build more of tiny homes and continue making a difference in their community.

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