What are we trying to create?
The standard approach to homelessness is called Housing First: “providing four walls and a roof” and offering professional services. This approach falls short because the problem of homelessness is not a lack of housing and professional help alone, but just as critically, a lack of integration into a supportive and nurturing community. A Community First approach is an alternative that focuses not only on providing shelter but on meeting relational and social needs in a holistic way.
What is the Community First approach?
Homelessness is most often the result of a profound and catastrophic loss of family and community. Those of us with a strong-enough support network don’t end up homeless.
Establish a sense of social belonging through mutual accountability, relational capital, and shared decision-making, empowering members to work together for the good of the community.
Affordable housing isn’t affordable and there’s not enough to go around.
TRULY AFFORDABLE, TRULY SUSTAINABLE HOUSING:
Bridge the gap between emergency shelter and costly conventional development by generating a plentiful supply of simple, efficient, permanent housing enabled by private funding to meet the real requirements of dignified accommodations.
Disorders and disabilities often restrict the chronically homeless from employment and limit their ability to have a meaningful role in society.
Help the chronically homeless rediscover and utilize their talents by providing opportunities to earn a dignified income through the production, operation, and maintenance of the Settlements, as well as support and increase entrepreneurship
Mainstream services are fragmented, overburdened, difficult to access, and can be dehumanizing and perpetuate dependency.
Reconnect the homeless to self, family, and community through missional-neighbors and befrienders in order to navigate the system and achieve personal goals.
Fear of who the homeless are and what type of neighbors they will be causes NIMBY (Not in my backyard) opposition and prevents housing developments for the homeless from being built.
Change the way people think about and interact with the homeless by transforming underused spaces into safe, clean, and beautiful places.
A Community First approach is an innovative way to address long-term homelessness by developing Sacred Settlements on available religious land in cooperation with a faith community.
Each resident has their own tiny home, and as a whole, the community shares facilities and amenities such as kitchen and dining spaces, bathrooms, laundry, gardens, workshops, and gathering areas. The land is managed by a religious or social organization to maintain standards for safety and welfare. Specially-trained missional neighbors live in the settlement and work with all the members to ensure that the settlement is healthy and thriving.
How does a Community First approach work?
Why are churches critical?
A Community First approach can only succeed through the support of local churches. Why? Because outside of religious property, it is virtually impossible to find land or enable development to make Sacred Settlements a reality.
Using church property reduces or eliminates the cost of land, and enables development where it would otherwise not happen because church land is protected under a federal land use law. In addition, Sacred Settlements provide built-in community through the partnering churches. Because human beings are wired for relationship, we all do better when we are in a place to care for others and be cared for ourselves and this model meets this relational need. All of this matches with the mission of the church and the Scriptural command to care for the poor.
Plans to develop tiny home settlements in the Twin Cities are being based on the model of Community First! Village in Austin, Texas. Since 2015, they have successfully lifted over 200 chronically homeless men and women off the streets and into community, including Penny, a resident of the village.
Penny ran away from home for the first time at age 6 to escape her severely abusive mother. But as a child, she didn’t know how to take care of herself and had to return. At age 10 she ran away for good. She never felt like she belonged anywhere, so she made the streets her home. Because her mother had given her drugs as a child, she began a long struggle with addiction. With no family support, Penny remained in a cycle of suffering and homelessness, but she never gave up.
Eventually, Penny found a home in Community First! Village, where she now lives and works as an artist, and is known for her bright personality. Each month, Penny donates the profits from five of her art pieces to help friends still suffering on the streets.
Penny says, “After 51 years, I finally have a home.”
Part of a Tiny Home Movement
- Home is a place of permanence.
Whether connected to a stable location or not, home signifies what endures over against what is transient. At home we are host, not guest.
- Home is a dwelling place.
Saturated with meaning, home is no mere domicile. We are at ease at home because we know the way around, we know the family customs, the quirks and the jokes - the 'rules of the house.'
- Home is a storied place.
A home is a dwelling made familiar and particular by the stories that have shaped it. At home, the stories we remember recall our common past and infuse our hoped-for future.
- Home is a safe resting place.
Home is a berth where we are secure and at rest because of the mutual respect everyone has for the integrity of the inhabitants.
- Home is a place of hospitality.
At home we take family in; ideally, we also welcome the stranger because we are at ease, without fear.
- Home is what we inhabit.
More than merely where we reside, ecologically understood, home is our habitat, and as such, it includes our nonhuman neighbors. Home roots us in the sights, smells, and sounds of a particular piece of earth.
- Home is a point of orientation.
From home our world is made meaningful. Away from home we become homesick.
- Home is a place of affiliation and belonging.
Home is, minimally, where they have to take us in, like it or not. Ideally, it is where we are loved and cherished even though we are known. Home is where we have a shot at being forgiven.
From Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement By Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh (Eerdmans , 2008)