Eden Village, a tiny home community for the chronically homeless, will soon be 24 more homes closer to their goal of giving everyone in Springfield a roof over their head.
Currently Eden Village only has one neighborhood on East Division Street with 31 houses and 31 residents. The second development will be on the west side of Springfield.
Nate Schluter, chief operating officer of Eden Village, said the organization’s goal is to build tiny home communities all over town until no one sleeps outside.
He said Eden Village has been looking at the new property since July or August 2019. However, the land was donated to Eden Village after the property was put under contract by a third party.
“We’re going to build at least four more of these all over town, so that everybody has the blessing of having beautiful people in a pocket neighborhood like Eden Village where they can be safe and where they can heal,” Schluter said.
The residents of the village all have to pay rent — $300 a month. Some residents pay this with disability or social security checks, but others have full-time or part-time jobs.
Where it all began
The idea of Eden Village started four years ago with co founders David and Linda Brown.
Schluter said the Browns had a drop-in center called The Gathering Tree when he met with them to talk about the vision of a tiny home community.
The Browns and Schluter then began thinking of ways to give the people at the drop-in center a true home.
“I started learning about some communities that were building small villages with tiny homes for homeless people,” David Brown said.
The current Eden Village is located on what used to be a trailer park. At only four and a half acres, Brown said starting small was the best thing for this project.
“Over a four year period of time, two years of planning, developing and raising money and two years of construction, we were able to open and house 31 people,” Brown said.
Brown said the number of chronically homeless people in Springfield has been around 200. Last year, it was down to 175.
Eden Village is a crime and drug-free community, meaning if residents are caught committing crimes or distributing drugs they will be asked to leave immediately.
Brown said if residents do drugs off the property but come back without disrupting anyone and the problem does not disrupt the community, that is the residents’ business.
“It’s unrealistic to think that people will be clean when they move in here, otherwise we’d have no results,” Brown said.
Eden Village will hold a house for a resident while they go through rehab, but it depends on if the resident wants to go through the treatment.
“We’ve had six, maybe seven that have had to leave,” Brown said. “Five of them have returned. They said they realize (the home) they’ve given up.”
Brown said he has seen many success stories of people coming in, getting clean and then reuniting with families.
“Homelessness is a chronic illness,” Brown said. “It is a catastrophic loss of a family.”
Schluter said it is a shame Springfield does not have a 24-hour homeless shelter, and Brown agrees.
The Gathering Tree
The Gathering Tree started 10 years ago after the Browns moved downtown.
“When you live downtown, you walk the streets and all these people are living on those streets,” Brown said. “After a while, you can’t avoid them. So I started talking to them and started thinking, what can we do?”
He said the two reasons for opening the drop-in center was to get their friends off the streets and to build relationships to understand them as individuals, not homeless people.
“That was the goal and that’s what we’ve done,” Brown said. “It totally changed our perception of homelessness. I think the average person’s perception of homelessness is skewed.”
However, The Gathering Tree was only open in the evenings, meaning the organization could not offer around-the-clock help.
Brown said meeting friends and then watching them go into the woods while he went home to a warm bed made him want to do something to change it.
For the new Eden Village development, there are only 24 available spots and over 100 applications.
Schluter said for residents to be considered, they have to have lived on the streets for a year or longer and suffer from some sort of mental or physical disability.
Brown said it is more likely a chronically homeless person has a mental illness that contributed to their homelessness. Sometimes this can cause issues at Eden Village.
“We’ve had some (residents who) couldn’t function here,” Brown said. “Partly because their mental illness was too severe, and trying to stay on top of them and keeping control of their medicines… Those are the type of people who need to be in an institution.”
Brown said he considers those residents are in need of an “intensive care unit” while Eden Village is more like a “general hospital.” The organization will take care of some people, but they still allow them freedom. Brown said it isn’t possible to give certain people the care they need.
“We’ve had at least two that were in that category, maybe three over a year and a half, who just didn’t work here,” Brown said.
Most residents thrive with the help they receive from Eden Village, according to Brown. He said most of them take pride in their community.
How to help
Schluter said on Nov. 5, 2019, they launched a $15 million capital campaign to create a ‘city where no one sleeps outside.’
“Obviously we need donations, and we need a continued army of volunteers to make that vision happen,” Schluter said.
Schluter said at the very least the people of Springfield should acknowledge a homeless person panhandling or sitting on the street.
“We shouldn’t pretend like people in absolute devastating poverty, most likely disabled or with a mental illness, are invisible to us,” Schluter said. “The problem only gets worse for them and our heart parts only get hardened when we look the other way.”
Brown said people should volunteer with organizations involved in homelessness and try to understand who the homeless really are. Doing this, he says, will change the perception of homelessness.
Schluter said the best part of Eden Village is seeing people dream and hope again as they come out of survival mode.
“Your life is destroyed when you’re homeless and on the streets,” Schluter said. “This is a place of healing. That’s an everyday miracle for us to get to watch.”
Brown said while donations are useful, helping the homeless is bigger than that.
“Obviously we need funding for donations,” Brown said. “But we’d rather have somebody come in and change their perception of homeless.”