What was once a church, and then a vacant building with a dirt yard, began its transformation nearly 24 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 Susan Ban, former ShelterCare Executive Director . “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 Human Services Division Director – 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 provided residents with therapy, skill building, substance abuse treatment and more; with its main focus being the residents’ mental health.
“Over the years, Shankle evolved from a mental health program for those experiencing homelessness, to a program that serves those experiencing chronic homelessness, as well as mental illness,” said ShelterCare’s Housing Services Director, Dana Petersen-Crabb, 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 included the deck, rose bushes, garden beds and the mural on Shankle’s back wall; which are all products of group volunteer projects over the years.
In conjunction with volunteers, fundraisers and generous donors, grants also played a significant role in Shankle’s development throughout the years. Together, these monies 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 former 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 learned of Shankle via Lane County Behavioral Health and White Bird’s CAHOOTS program. One of Shankle’s greatest forces was also its outreach team, in which staff members went into the community to connect with unhoused individuals, and provide them with supplies and housing resources. The outreach team also conducted “Front Door Assessments:” a questionnaire that quickly determined if someone is eligible for Shankle and other community programs.
“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 Chris Cunningham, ShelterCare Board Member. “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.”
Over the years, ShelterCare’s Shankle program has housed hundreds of residents; nearly 75 percent of whom exited into positive housing situations.