Google “living simply” and you’ll get millions of results  –  essays, blogs, books, websites, conferences. Clearly, living with a smaller environmental footprint –  more intention, less stuff – is an appealing idea that’s gaining popularity. Now more than ever, it’s critical for those of us with a choice to simplify our lives reduce our impact on our planet and its climate. This month, we will be publishing three profiles of people in our community who have chosen to simplify their lifestyles and enrich the quality of their lives. Shirley Perez West wrote these stories for the winter 2014 edition of the UsedNews, our free print and online quarterly newsletter.

A Simple Life Isn’t a Small Life

By Shirley Perez West

Erik and Fay Debuhr have been moving toward more intentional living for most of their adult lives, seeking lifestyles more in line with their values. They met, married, and had their son while living at Maitreya Ecovillage. Now they live in a seven-foot by twelve-foot Conestoga Hut and run Community Supported Shelters—living with less, so they can contribute more to the community.Debuhr family

It started seven years ago with the Resurrected Refuse Action Team (RRAT), says Erik. The group focused on using materials that were in the waste stream. “We built ‘Icosa Hut’ micro-shelters and built community by holding work parties to build the shelters and to weave usable goods from pallet straps, “ he says. (Check out Icosa Hut and the Jar Packer on YouTube.)

In 2010, the couple had their sights on an industrial building in West Eugene, zoned for multi-family residential and outfitted with a large shop, kitchen, and bathroom. With help from friends who were participating in one of RRAT’s community projects, they were able to purchase the building.

During the Occupy Eugene movement in late 2011, Erik designed a prototype of a moveable shelter that resembled the Conestoga wagons used in the Westward expansion. “The idea was to give people a warm, dry shelter that locks,” says Erik. Others involved in the idea of building low-cost shelters helped refine the design. By 2013, the first “community-supported shelters” were being placed at city-approved camps, churches, and businesses.

The Conestoga Huts are insulated, built up off the ground, and secured with a locking door (donated by BRING). Where possible, the huts use donated materials, keeping costs in the $500 to $1200 range, depending on what’s available. So far, more than 35 have been built. More than that, the huts gave rise to the non-profit Community Supported Shelters, which operates two legal “rest stop” camps for people without housing. According to its Facebook page, CSS “provides a platform to help individuals find stability and community. We build relationships and advocate for our clients with other community agencies.”

At first, CSS focused on fundraising and building the huts (Erik is the Executive Director and Fay is the Board President). Now the main focus is operating the two rest stop camps (Eugene Safe Spot and Vets Safe Spot), fundraising, and occasionally building and maintaining Conestoga Huts.

The Deburhs and another family live in three Conestoga Huts on the property. “It’s in alignment with our values to share space and what we have,” says Fay.

“On a weekly basis, we provide food for the camp work parties, let folks use our shower and laundry, charge their phones, and hang out and get warm by the wood-burning stove,” says Erik. “For the most part, while campers are here, they get involved with daily CSS tasks.”

Behind the CSS shop, Erik and Fay have been reclaiming land covered by asphalt, rebuilding the soil, and planting trees and other edibles. In the Deburh hut, there’s room for their bed and for a sitting area that converts to a bed for their five-year-old son, Abram, to sleep on when he’s not in his own hut.

“We don’t own a lot of stuff,” says Fay. And that’s the way they prefer it. In fact, one of their side enterprises is helping others drastically downsize their belongings.

“When property owners are faced with a hoarder, we go in, clean-up, re-use and recycle what we can,” says Erik. He adds that one of the symptoms of hoarding is being disconnected with the natural world. Erik and Fay make it a point to give their son experiences in nature. Abram attends Whole-Earth Nature School on a scholarship. Last summer, the family work-traded, and moved their hut to a rural farm, while also running CSS.

Although their income is minimal—indulging in special treats like Red Wagon ice cream only every few months—the couple says their lives feel big. Recently, they helped a woman downsize and move to Colorado, which enabled them to travel as well.

“Things happen like that in our lives,” says Fay. “We’re getting more comfortable, living out of God’s bank account, not our own.”

Community Supported Shelters— Information and photos of the Connestoga Huts, how to contribute, and a newsletter about the group’s progress: communitysupportedshelters.org

When you give to BRING this spring, you will help provide shelter to people who need it the most, thanks to our partnership with Community Supported Shelters (CSS). Throughout April, BRING will donate 10 percent of the value of every gift received in materials to build Conestoga Huts for CSS.

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