A realtor in Missouri is determined to make her hometown “a city where no one sleeps outside.”
For nine years, Linda Brown and her husband David organized an overnight shelter where the homeless in Springfield could eat, shower, do laundry, use a computer, and socialize during bingo and karaoke games, but they wanted to do more.
So they transformed an abandoned mobile home property into a village of tiny houses that provides permanent housing for homeless people with chronic disabilities.
They raised $ 4.75 million and opened Eden Village in 2018, erecting 31 tiny houses that are now occupied by the likes of Jonathan Fisher. He was battling substance abuse and had lived on the streets for two years when he met Linda Brown, who changed his life.
“In the worst moments of my life, Linda guided me, cared for me, and made me feel like I was still worth something,” says Fisher. He says Brown took the time to learn about how he became homeless and then encouraged him as he rebuilt his life. He even offered her a job.
Now sober, Fisher works full-time for Brown, doing the construction and maintenance of the 31 houses and helping others who are going through hardships similar to the ones he went through.
The driving philosophy behind Eden Village is the same that drives the Housing first movement: The root causes of a person’s homelessness cannot be fully addressed until their immediate housing needs are met.
“I watched my (homeless) friends walk away in the dark to a cold, wet, hidden campground while we went home to a warm bed,” Linda told the National Association of Realtors, who honored her with their Good Neighbor in 2020.. “I had to do something,”
That was the moment that shaped his vision for the tiny house village that serves as a place where homeless people with chronic disabilities “can live with dignity and self-esteem.”
Changing lives, one town at a time
After obtaining endorsement money from Coldwell Banker, the Greater Springfield Board of Realtors, local banks, churches and area residents, by February 2019, all 31 tiny houses, costing about $ 42,000 each, were occupied.
“You need someone who wants to do something and then believes that they can. I’ve seen Linda Brown live that, “says Nate Schleuter, who helped launch a small village of homes for the homeless in Austin, Texas, but now he’s the visionary director of Eden Village.
“It’s exciting to see homeless people who thought they would live the rest of their lives on the street now have a home.”
Brown’s 13 years of real estate experience has been essential to the development of the small home community. He learned of a listing of an abandoned 4.2 acre mobile park on the east side of Springfield. The property would not need to be rezoned for small home trailers, and the infrastructure and utilities were already in place.
The tiny houses are rolled on wheels attached to their steel frames, qualifying them as recreational vehicles. The 400-square-foot individual houses are fully furnished, including dishes and linens. Residents pay $ 300 per month, which includes utilities. Most receive government disability checks of $ 725 per month to cover expenses. They can stay in your home for as long as they want, as long as they remain a good neighbor in the community.
The village includes a 4,000-square-foot community center where residents can cook cookouts, do laundry, and access a doctor’s office with volunteer nursing students and mental health professionals. Eden Village was even the site of a marriage ceremony for two residents.
Plans for additional villages are already underway on donated land. Eden Village 2 will house 24 residents in tiny houses and is about to open.
Then, work will begin on Eden Village 3, which could house up to 80 duplex residents. Over the next six years, Brown, who is a real estate agent for Amax Real Estate, plans to have five villages in Springfield, housing about 200 homeless people.
Fisher says Brown’s devotion helped him emerge from the clutches of homelessness. “She helped me build a better life,” says Fisher. “Even when I was struggling with homelessness and sobriety, she showed me that I was valuable and that my potential should not be wasted. She made me feel like I belonged somewhere. “
Other cities are looking to duplicate Eden Village. A project is underway in Wilmington, North Carolina, and 34 other communities are making plans. You can visit the Eden Village website to donate to a 501 (C-3) non-profit or volunteer with them.
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