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Roofs above their heads: churches use small houses for the homeless

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The Associated Press

Associated Press

Holly Meyer

Churches across the United States are tackling the big problem of how to deal with the homeless in the community with a small solution. It's a small house.

In vacant lots near parking lots and steep sanctuaries, congregations move from fixed, fully housed microhomes to petite, mobile cabins, and several others in between. We're building everything from small-styled footprint dwellings.

Church leaders aren't just trying to be more neighbors. The willingness to provide shelter is rooted in their belief — they must take care of vulnerable people, especially those without homes.

"It's an integral part of us as people of the faith," said Rev. Lisa Fishbeck, a former vicar and president of Sherlock Holmes. rice field. An affordable housing organization that builds small homes in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Fishbeck led supporters of the Episcopal Church when he added three one-bedroom units to a 15-acre campus. The first residents, including Nathaniel'Pee Wee'Lee, the origin of the organization's name, moved to them in June 2019. His masonry career. Today he watches TV at his home, grows tomatoes, and fishes in a nearby pond.

"I thank the Lord because this is mine and no one can run out of me," Lee said with a laugh, sitting on the porch of his little white house. rice field.

According to Fishbeck, small homes fit almost everywhere, and the advantage of building on church grounds is that electricity, water, and other infrastructure are already in place.

"I feel so passionate that there is space in the church," she said. "Think about it. It's an urgent need."

The acceptance of a small house as a housing solution can be found in both sacred and secular spaces. Within the territory of Christianity, their use spans denominations. Often, small house projects are based on relevant ministries, such as providing parking spaces for people who live in cars. Beneficiaries can usually attend worship services, but they do not need to.

Some church projects are already in operation, but others, like the Nazaren Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is a chronically gathering community of small homes. The church is still working towards moving in. Homeless people settled by a local non-profit organization.

"We don't have much fortune," said Jeff Oruk, chief pastor of the Mosaic Christian community in St. Paul. "We sought to use all the square inch assets that needed hospitality."

This spring, in El Cajon, California, Meridian Baptists partnered with the local nonprofit Amikas. However, Church minister Rolland Slade has begun construction of an emergency sleeping cabin on some of its property, which he said is normally vacant except for tumbleweed.

Mothers with children, whose demographics are difficult to protect, can stay for 90 days and connect to the city's residential safety net for more permanent options. Bathrooms and communal kitchens are located in the nearby church building.

"Forks told me that the six cabins wouldn't make a difference, and I really disagree," Slade said. "It makes a difference to at least six women. If each has children, it will be six children."

To the construction, operation and bureaucratic hurdles Churches often rely on community organizations such as Amikas, Pee Wee Homes, and Settled to assist in dealing with.

Another is the Firm Foundation Community Housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was launched by Rev. Jake Medcalf, a former Chief Pastor of the Hayward Presbyterian Church, when the congregation built a temporary small home in the parking lot.

Not only is the place of worship affordable, but it is in a position to "provide the community in a way that is truly human and part of everyone's basic healing and recovery," Medkaf said. I am saying.

In 2020, the First Christian Tacoma Church in Washington became the host site for a small home community founded by the Nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute. Nonprofits run villages, allowing congregations to contribute without overexpanding themselves.

"We don't have a lot of money. There aren't many people, but we care about it very much and have this property. "" Said Rev. Doug Collins, senior minister of the church.

Not everyone welcomes these projects to their neighborhood. In Nashville, Tennessee, plans to build a small house by the Glencliff Joint Methodist Church have led to repulsions and proceedings by some neighbors. Eventually the village of Glencliffe became dominant, and today, when drawn into the driveway of the church, a colorful arc of microhomes greets the rally.

It specializes in helping people with medical problems, such as William “Green Bay” Scribner, 37, who recovered there for seven months. Not only was he able to leave in a healthier condition, but village staff helped him land a more permanent apartment where he could host his young daughter overnight, he said. rice field.

For people with medical vulnerabilities like Scribner, "Housing saves lives," said Ingrid McIntyre, pastor of the Joint Methodist Church and founder of the village. Said the pastor.

According to the annual homeless evaluation report to the Parliament of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the last national survey conducted unaffected by the pandemic showed about 580,000 people on the night of January 2020. Turned out to be homeless. The number based on the point-in-time count increased in the fourth year.

Therefore, the movement of a small house is too small to solve the whole problem, said Marybeth Shinn, a professor at Vanderbilt University who has been studying the homeless for decades. It will be difficult to scale up to meet the overwhelming demand.

"It's good to help some people, but we need to find a solution that will help more people," Shin said.

Donald Whitehead, director of the National Union for the Homeless, uses their spare space to help the church and make a small home a great urgent option to help the homeless. Like everyone who added that homeless people deserve standard-sized homes, although they said they did.

"You can include it in your menu of resources to help you deal with the homeless," Whitehead said. "People want to build ordinary homes if they have the opportunity to build ordinary homes at the same price."

Meanwhile, the church also serves as temporary housing as a result of natural disasters. I'm finding a small house.

Some renters were still forced to evacuate months after the deadly December tornado struck Mayfield, Kentucky. The Bread of Life Humanitarian Effort, a non-profit organization of the Christian Church, has joined the support.

With the support of the Mayfield congregation, nonprofits used donations to start building small homes wherever they could get permission, such as next to the Northside Christ Church. ..

"Some people are hurt," said Joel Crider, Bread of Life's treasurer. "It is our Christian duty to take care of them."


The Associated Press's religious coverage was funded by Lily Endowment, Inc. , Supported through a collaboration between the Associated Press and The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.