Most of us have the luxury and privilege of saying we’ve always had a roof over our heads. But that’s not the case for many Americans. According to the most recent national point-in-time estimate, gathered in January of 2017, an estimated 5553,742 people in the United States experience homelessness on any given night. This shakes out to about 17 out of every 10,000 people in the U.S. being left without a home. The Gathering Tree is fighting to change that.
The faith-based nonprofit has funded an incredible housing project to help the unhoused population in the Ozarks. Named Eden Village, the 4.5-acre town includes 31 tiny homes, specially reserved for Springfield’s chronically disabled homeless population. Executive Director of The Gathering Tree, David Brown, and his wife, Linda, were inspired to created Eden Village after their time volunteering and sheltering unhoused people each night at the nonprofit.
“What we agonized over was after we’re with our friends on an evening, we get in our cars and go home,” David explained. “They put their backpacks on and trudge off into the woods. And we thought, ‘surely something can be done about this.'” The Browns grew close to those that came to The Gathering Tree for support and shelter, discussing false perceptions of homelessness and assisting them however possible.
“The number one, I think, definition of homelessness is profound, catastrophic loss of family and friends or community,” David continued. “They’re alone, have no resources to fall back on, nobody to talk to them. Our whole focus is to get to know their stories and see how we can impact them.” Linda quickly put her realtor know-how to work and found an abandoned trailer park that would allow 398-square-feet for each unit.
From finding the lot to sketching the properties to hiring a company to make 31 single-adult occupancy tiny homes, the Browns eventually raised $4.75 million and successfully opened Eden Village in 2018. This allowed people like Jonathan Fisher to finally find a place to lay their heads and start on the path of self-sufficiency.
“In the worst moments of my life, Linda gave me guidance, care, and made me feel like I was still worth something,” Jonathan said. He was battling substance abuse and had been homeless for over two years when he met Linda. She helped guide Jonathan to a sober life and even offered him a job at Eden Village, where he not only lives but works full-time on construction and maintenance of the 31 tiny homes.
By February of 2019, all 31 homes, priced at about $42,000 each, were occupied. Now, Linda has earned the 2020 Good Neighbor Award from the National Association of Realtors. As a real estate agent, Linda was able to use her 13 years of experience to find that perfect lot, which wouldn’t require any rezoning and was already fitted with the perfect infrastructure and utilities for tiny homes. “I watched as my [homeless] friends walked off into the darkness to a hidden, wet, cold camp while we went home to a warm bed,” she told the NAR. “I had to do something.”
Each home is fully furnished, with a low rent of $300 a month including utilities. Since many of the occupants have chronic disabilities, most receive disability checks of $725 each month, leaving them plenty of room to grow their savings and buy other essentials. The Eden Village is also fitted with a 4,000 square-foot community center. Residents can host barbeques, do laundry, and access a medical office staffed with student nurse volunteers and mental health professionals. It was even the site of a marriage ceremony between two of the village’s residents!
In the end, like many of Eden Village’s residents, Jonathan thanks Linda for getting him where he is today. “She helped me to build a better life,” he said. “Even when I was struggling with homelessness and sobriety, she showed me I was valuable and that my potential shouldn’t be wasted. She made me feel like I belonged somewhere.”Whizzco