A Springfield tiny homes community is nearly halfway to its $2.4 million fundraising goal, and now 18 of the 400-square foot homes for the homeless have been purchased for the East Division Street development site.
Spearheading the effort behind the scenes is Dr. David Brown and his wife, Linda, who are using their nonprofit, The Gathering Tree, as the development vehicle. They say the objective behind the 4.5-acre, 30-unit housing project is to help the chronically disabled homeless community.
“Linda and I have been working with the homeless since 2010,” David Brown told Springfield Business Journal via email. “Through our experience, we felt like homelessness was just being managed instead of solved.”
At 2801 E. Division St., three of the tiny homes have been delivered and set in place. They cost around $30,000 apiece, and each has been supported by a single entity or individual. The Greater Springfield Board of Realtors funded the first home in April and Judy Huntsman of Coldwell Banker Vanguard supported the second this summer. Central Bank of the Ozarks donated for the most recent home, delivered in September.
While funds have been raised solely through donations so far, the organizers are awaiting word on a $750,000 federal grant.
“It will be the ‘tipping point’ grant that will make Eden Village a reality now,” Brown said of the application through the Federal Home Loan Bank System. “We will know about it in mid-December.”
Brown said The Gathering Tree also has applied for grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, though the nonprofit will continue to rely on local donors, foundations and corporations.
“We are continually talking to groups, churches, businesses and clubs, in the hopes of making homelessness awareness more prominent on the charitable radar of people,” Brown said.
The Gathering Tree Board President Ron Duncan is a point person on this Eden Village mission.
As individuals and businesses invest in the tiny homes, Duncan said he hopes they realize it’s directly affecting the economy, too.
“Statistics from several cities around the country show that a chronically disabled homeless person will cost a community $30,000 to $40,000 per year,” Brown said. “The chronically disabled homeless population in Springfield in in excess of 100 individuals.”
Springfield’s total homeless population is closer to 800, however, according to the recently released 2017 Community Focus Report. That’s double the count from 2009, according to a statewide homelessness study by the Public Policy Research Center of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
For the organizers, that means Eden Village could help prevent millions of dollars in extra costs to the city given its designs for 30 residents. Immediate beneficiaries of the savings, Brown added, would be hospital systems and city governmental services.
The cause has piqued the interest of businesses.
Central Bank of the Ozarks Marketing Vice President Andrew Tasset said he’s helping plan volunteer opportunities for the home the company funded.
“We’re doing all the landscaping as well,” Tasset said. “We’re going to do an employee day where we come out in the spring.”
Tasset said Central Bank soon would create an online registry, so employees can help outfit the house.
“We just wanted to design a home that would be comfortable for the person that’s going to live there,” he said.
Sun Solar CEO Caleb Arthur had a similar idea.
His company donated solar equipment to help power Eden Village’s first home, as well as the development’s community center, which Duncan said is scheduled for a December groundbreaking.
The $600,000 center would serve as a site for psychology, health and counseling services, as well as a place for social activities and life-skills training for residents, Duncan said.
“It’s about teaching them how to socialize,” he said.
“They’ve been invisible for so long.”
Central Bank, in addition to its donation, will offer financial services and classes.
Also planned in the community center is a computer lab and library, a laundry room and a food bank – all to be powered and well lit by Sun Solar’s 10-panel system.
Arthur said in addition to the donation of the $15,000 solar panel system – to cover one tiny home and the upcoming community center – the community will save roughly $45,000 in electricity costs over the next 25 years.
History of help
The Gathering Tree, founded in 2010, began with small actions, like handing out warm food and providing a safe space for the homeless to commune daily at the Vineyard Church downtown. There, where the nonprofit’s offices are now located, the homeless can access restrooms, prepackaged foods and computers.
The Browns began to think bigger, however, when they met Nate Schlueter, a native of Springfield who had just moved back from Texas. They came up with a new vision.
Schlueter had spent the last two years in Austin working on a 27-acre tiny homes development with 250 homes. Named Community First, Schlueter said the project exceeded $12 million and was made possible by nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes.
He’s applying that experience to his work with Eden Village, for which he’ll serve as property manager.
“With homeless people, we always put them somewhere where we wouldn’t live,” Schlueter said. “So the idea behind Eden Village was to put them somewhere where we might walk in and say, ‘It’s a lot like my house, just smaller. I could live here.’”
The developers are buying the tiny homes from Athens, Texas-based manufacturer Athens Park Homes.
With the first move-in expected next summer, Duncan said he projects Eden Village should be full by the end of 2018. Residents, many of whom are on disability, will pay their own rent based on their disability checks.
“We’ll start placing residents when the community center is built,” Duncan said.
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