Neil’s StoryNovember 4, 2023
Written by Sandy Cutler, NHS Secretary
Nightingale Hosted Shelters (NHS) is very fortunate to have two outstanding and committed individuals who serve as full-time managers of the camp (they live in the camp). Their names are Nathan Showers and Tracy Joscelyn, and their stories are truly remarkable. MaryKay White, former NHS Secretary/Treasurer and Honorary Board member and I recently had breakfast with Nathan and Tracy and heard more about their journey and contributions to NHS. Here is an abbreviated summary of their stories:
How did you become involved with NHS?
It all began in Whoville in 2013 when Nathan was one of many homeless people trying desperately to survive in Eugene. Whoville was a large, unsanctioned homeless camp located on Hilyard and Broadway. Nathan and others observed the Whoville “camp manager” using and dealing drugs. Nathan, a group of residents and a few advocates got the camp manager removed, and Nathan became the “defacto” camp manager. With the assistance of many, Whoville was a community of people who worked together and survived a harsh snowy and freezing winter. After the City of Eugene closed Whoville, Nathan and others protested for safe and legal places to exist and then worked with the City of Eugene to establish the original Rest Stops, temporary homeless shelter with tents on platforms. The first NHS Rest Stop was located on the east side of the Lane County Behavioral Health building across from Autzen Stadium. After several months, that Rest Stop moved to Northwest Expressway and River Road, and then back to the west side of LCBH and then moved again to a garden area near the entrance of the Eugene Mission, and finally in 2017, to it’s current location at 34th & Hilyard Alley.
Nathan came to Eugene from Salem after a adventurous journey through life that included being an Eagle Scout, getting his GED through the Job Corp, culinary training, forestry training, and welding training. He lost his job working for a large winery in Amity, which led to him becoming homeless, which led him to Eugene and Whoville in 2013.
Tracy’s life story has also been filled with challenges. In 2002-2003 Tracy was The Dining Room manager for Food for Lane County. When that commitment was over, she never made enough money to keep up on rent and bills. Consequently, she lived in her car for several years. One day Tracy saw Nathan on television during a Whoville news story. She decided to reach out to Nathan and they became deeply involved in protesting for safe and legal places for people to exist and assisting people who were unhoused. Tracy and Nathan have been working together for the last 9 years.
What’s happening now at NHS?
Things are going well currently. We have 14 residents; most of them have jobs, or are looking for jobs. We have four women in camp. We’re anxiously waiting for the City of Eugene to provide water and electricity to our camp so that we can begin using the new kitchen (provided by generous donations from donors and NHS Board members). The kitchen is beautiful and we have already installed flooring and most of the appliances. Once we get water and electricity we will have a fully functional kitchen! Much different than the outdoor kitchen we have been using for the past four years.
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?
The biggest challenge now, and always, is caring for our residents and other unhoused people. It can be stressful working with people who have many challenges. We work 24/7 to help assure that everyone is healthy and taking care of themselves, mediate disputes, mentoring and guiding residents so that they can move forward. According to Nathan, only about 35% of the general homeless population is serious about improving themselves.
What is your future vision for NHS?
We really want to help those people who are ready and willing to help themselves – to move on with their lives. We work as being a “conduit” to housing, but affordable housing is limited right now in Lane County. We help people navigate the often lengthy and sometimes painful process of finding appropriate housing and then having enough money to actually move out of camp into housing. Nathan says, “We want to make a difference helping people move forward.” Tracy says, “I love people and want to be a good role model, helping others and supporting others. Give respect and get respect.”