What was once a church, and then a vacant building with a dirt yard, began its transformation 20 years ago into a place of opportunity for many people who experience homelessness and mental illness in Lane County.
The Shankle building, located at South Brooklyn Street, was originally constructed in 1965 for Bethel Temple Faith Ministries. It was the first of three churches built by the late Reverend Arthur Shankle: a professional carpenter, and also the first African-American to be a member of Oregon’s local carpenter union.
After nearly 30 years of operation, Rev. Shankle and his congregation moved away from South Brooklyn Street in 1994 and built a new church at West 18th Street.
“After they moved, the old building was empty and frequently vandalized,” said ShelterCare Executive Director Susan Ban. “I think church congregation members grew tired of having to repair the building weekend after weekend, so the county came up with a way to help.”
In 1996 Steve Manela, Lane County’s division manager for human services, approached former Lane County Commissioner Bobby Green about purchasing the building to provide services to people experiencing homelessness, sparking the beginning of ShelterCare’s Shankle program.
“Initially Steve envisioned a day access center for homeless people to go in and out of, but the neighborhood was a little hesitant about mixing with the homeless population,” said Ban. “So, we settled on a housing-first model for those dealing with serious mental illness; a place for people to make a soft, supported transition into more independent housing.”
By January 1997 Shankle had gone from a vacant church to a place where people could live comfortably, thanks to help from many volunteers and staff members. Sunday School rooms were transformed into bedrooms, and where the church’s dais once stood is now a common area for residents to watch TV and visit together.
Like ShelterCare’s other supported housing programs, Shankle provides residents with therapy, skill building, substance abuse treatment and more; with its main focus being the residents’ mental health.
“Over the years I know that Shankle has evolved from a mental health program for those experiencing homelessness to a program serving the chronically homeless who are experiencing mental illness,” said ShelterCare Deputy Administrator Dana Petersen, who spent several years working at Shankle as the assistant program manager.
When asked about her favorite Shankle memories, Petersen reminisced on the fun she would have with residents.
“I miss the fun and games of the place,” said Petersen. “It reminded me of my summer camp days. We would have serious meetings and then have a really exciting game of Jenga.”
Outdoor features of the residence such as the deck, rose bushes, garden beds and the mural on Shankle’s back wall are all products of group volunteer projects, which ShelterCare coordinates annually.
In conjunction with volunteers, fundraisers and generous donors, grants have also played a significant role in Shankle’s development throughout the years. Together, these monies have helped fund everything from additional beds, kitchen renovations and off-site community apartments, to exciting field trips for residents.
“One of my favorite things was running the fishing group,” said Shankle Assistant Program Manager Joshua Knotts. “What made it memorable was working with people that had never fished before, and watching the excitement they had at learning to cast the pole.”
Since its opening in 1997, residents have learned about Shankle via Lane County Behavioral Health and White Bird’s CAHOOTS program. One of Shankle’s greatest forces has also been its outreach team, in which staff members go into the community to inform future residents about Shankle, hand out emergency supplies, and refer them to places they can sleep, shower and eat. The outreach team also conducts “Front Door Assessments:” a questionnaire that quickly determines if someone is eligible for Shankle and other community programs.
When community member Christine Cunningham found out about Shankle’s 20th Anniversary party, she contacted ShelterCare to share the story of how it changed her sibling’s life:
“Never would my family have imagined that our sibling’s life would be transformed so wonderfully and radically, after her decades-long history of alcoholism and two years of chronic homelessness,” said Cunningham. “After she moved into Shankle, we began seeing small but crucial changes: She began taking her medications regularly, making and keeping her own appointments and even expressing herself differently.”
Last year ShelterCare’s Shankle program housed 34 residents, and 75 percent of those who exited transitioned into positive housing situations.
“A year later, she moved into ShelterCare’s supportive housing, where she lives independently,” added Cunningham. “She is giving back now, volunteering in the FOOD for Lane County diningroom three days a week. We couldn’t be more grateful for her new life, thanks to ShelterCare.”