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Seventy people from five churches gather for prayer walk to support transitional housing project

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - The Prayer Walk was held at North Valley Friends Church's Peace Trail.

On Oct. 9, nearly 70 people from five local churches gathered for a prayer walk in support of Peace Trail Village, a planned transitional housing project that has delighted some residents and angered others.

The village — consisting of eight 300-square-foot cottages, a community space and a laundry facility — will be built on North Valley Friends Church (NVFC) property and provide temporary housing for houseless people in the community. Providence Newberg will offer guests individualized wrap-around care and, once they're ready, help them find permanent housing.

Although Peace Trail Village is modeled after safe and successful transitional housing programs elsewhere, it sparked controversy earlier this year due to its proximity to Veritas Christian School. Concerned for student safety, several community members formed the Kids Not Camps initiative to prevent its construction.

"(The petition) stated things that weren't true about we were doing, so I think I felt very confused and sad (when it came out)," Pastor Leslie Hodgdon Murray of NVFC said after the Prayer Walk. "It was a little mind-boggling, surprising. I just don't understand a campaign of something that you haven't done the work to know."

Newberg First United Methodist Church organized the prayer walk as an act of solidarity with NVFC.

"The primary purpose of the Prayer Walk was to demonstrate support for North Valley Friends' vision of serving a vulnerable population," said Pastor Casey Banks of NFUMC, "and to ask God's blessing on the project's development because efforts to care for the poor always face adversity."

"We spread the word," said Kathy Knowles, the chair of NFUMC's affordable housing team. "We were doing this and they (the other churches) wanted to join."

"To show them (NVFC) that there is community support for this," said Bob Knowles, Kathy Knowles' husband.

Attendees prayed as a group and then split off to walk NVFC's popular public path, aptly named the Peace Trail, while reflecting on affordable housing.

During the group meeting, Hodgdon Murray read Matthew 25:35-40, in which Jesus instructs his disciples to care for the needy.

"One of my favorite understandings of what it means to be a Christian in this world is being the body of Christ for one another," Banks said, "and often we say that we are the hands and feet of Jesus for one another in this world. Today, my prayer is that we would devote ourselves to using our hands and our voices and our feet to be advocates for this desperately needed, good for the community endeavor."

In fact, Peace Trail Village will be Yamhill County's first ever transitional housing project, a middle step between car or RV camping and permanent shelter.

Prayer walk participants said they attended the event because they see the village's potential.

"I would really like to see this project succeed," NVFC member Jessica Trout said. "Housing is needed here and in Oregon. Having something like this is really essential."

A NVFC attendee when the idea for the village was first proposed, Trout said she had no idea that it would become controversial.

"I was shocked and saddened by how people misconstrued what the church is doing," she said, but admitted she could understand why others who were not privy to the entire process might have been surprised by what probably seemed like a sudden development.

To the project's skeptics, Trout recommended that they reach out to people involved, like Hodgdon Murray, and ask questions.

"(Transitional housing) allows them (guests) to have something they can afford," she said. "It offers stability and a place where they can be ready for whatever comes next."

"It meets the idea of providing for people who have a need," said Jan Urton, who serves on NUFMC's affording housing committee. "It's a compassionate way. The project is well-thought and not just spur of the moment. It's taken lots of planning and forethought."

Bob Knowles emphasized that the village will not be a homeless camp.

"That needs to be really spelled out," he said. "I'm concerned that some of the parents feel it's going to become a camp, you know, unsupervised — that's not the case at all."

NVFC isn't the only church interested in affordable housing.

NFUMC is in the process of acquiring property in Dundee, where they plan to build a multi-use building with residential space.

Instead of acting as transitional housing, the people who will live in the building will be homeowners, thanks to church partner Habitat for Humanity's ministry model.

"Once the sale of the property is complete," Banks said in an email, "our next steps will include collaborating with By His Grace Fellowship, sharing our vision with Dundee neighbors, doing a listening campaign to discern the best use of the ground floor space, and fundraising. Scott Edwards Architecture of Portland has worked with Newberg FUMC and Habitat for Humanity all year pro bono to produce a site plan, floor plans and external renderings."

Peace Trail Village also is moving forward. At the end of October, NVFC will submit its building application to the city.

"If there are other groups of faith that want to participate or be involved in Peace Trail Village in any way, we'd love to hear from them because we're looking at partnerships," Hodgdon Murray said. "We also think it would be helpful on our website to have other faith groups that are willing to share one or two sentences of support. To show that there are other faith groups that are trying to look at creative ways to address houselessness in Newberg."

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