The Community First model rests on the philosophical assumption that, the single greatest cause of homelessness is a profound, catastrophic loss of family. Community First is an acknowledgment that homelessness in many ways is synonymous with heartbreak and none can fathom the depth of human sorrow in the human heart. For one to come out of homelessness, a Community First model presumes that one must be invited into a community where there is restoration of the human heart. And to experience homefullness, or the sense of being settled and belonging, is to experience being fully and wholly known and fully and wholly loved, inherent needs of every human being.
We also know that affordable housing is not affordable and there is not enough to go around. In fact, we are losing more affordable housing than we are gaining in our country every year. In the Twin Cities, current housing options exceed the economic grasp of people experiencing long term homelessness. Two-thirds of homeless adults reported a one-bedroom apartment or smaller would meet their needs. Unfortunately, the average fair market rent of a one-bedroom apartment in the metro is $796 per month while the median monthly income remains at $600 or 10% AMI (average median income) for a homeless adult.
There are virtually no subsidized federal housing options available through Section 8 vouchers. Across the seven-county metro area, there is not only no housing currently available but all waiting lists are closed. Public housing waiting lists in St Paul are closed and Minneapolis has a seven-year waiting period. Unlike the federal program, the state housing subsidy is uncapped. However, there are insufficient people to process claims leaving a long wait time. Even once someone is granted a state subsidy, they are left to live in poverty on less than $100 per month with all their other income going towards rent. All of this scarcity is compounded by the fact that there is less than 2% rental vacancy rate across the Twin Cities.
Housing is the first step to providing people a path to healing. Study after study has shown that placing people in permanent housing with supportive services is a much more effective solution in reducing public costs and becoming stably housed compared to asking people to jump through hoops to obtain housing.
The Community First model also recognizes that housing with support services only solves houselessness. Research shows that the vast majority of people experiencing long term homelessness come from broken homes, having faced significant Adverse Childhood Experiences. This unresolved trauma leads to lifelong struggles with substance abuse disorders, mental illnesses, and chronic health conditions.
This model provides a lasting solution by creating permanent housing with supportive services and supportive community for people, within which they can have productive lives, sustain meaningful relationships, and become settled.
One of Settled’s social outreach partners has developed trusted relationships with over 100 long-term homeless individuals over the last five years. They estimate 75% of the people they serve would be interested in this type of solution. The benefits being that the housing has a rent they can afford, a supportive community, non-institutional culture, the opportunity to dwell in their own structure without shared walls and a place to belong and contribute.
In our hundreds of listening sessions, we have learned that people experiencing homelessness have shared they would prefer more housing be built with fewer amenities than the status quo that leaves people on the streets. James, a previously homeless man, said it best, “If they were in our position, that’s your heaven, that’s your castle.”
The land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws.
RLUIPA is not a blanket exemption but rather it requires that the government not “impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise,” unless it shows that the burden furthers a "compelling governmental interest” and does so by the “least restrictive means.” We have found this applies well to zoning matters and serves to enable development where it would not otherwise happen.
Settled leads the home and site design, construction management, legal research, and media strategy, develops and facilitates training, and coordinates resident care, property management, and community works micro-enterprises in partnership with churches.
Churches, in partnership with one another, fundraise and participate in constructing the homes, maintain ownership and insurance on the home, provide or support dignified work opportunities for inhabitants, and provide a supportive network with routine shared meals and activities as they are led and able.
- Inexpensive: A tiny home is 1/10th the price of a new affordable studio apartment, and donated land and volunteer labor significantly reduce costs.
- Aesthetically pleasing: Blend into a residential community better than a typical RV or mobile home.
- Eco-friendly: Homes are built to be long-lasting structures that meet health and safety standards and are highly insulated to save on energy costs in a wintry climate!
- Participation: Provides faith communities and inhabitants a sense of pride and ownership by coming together to create dignified housing.
- Customizable: Can be designed to incorporate creativity, individuality, and functionality.
- Promotes community: settlements will have an emphasis on shared spaces and shared amenities.
- Smaller footprint: Our tiny homes are on wheels in order to allow us to build smaller dwellings than many cities’ minimal square footage requirements allow.
- Ability to help more people: Folks experiencing homelessness have shared they would prefer more housing be built with fewer amenities than the status quo that leaves people on the streets. James, a previously homeless man, said it best, “If they were in our position, that’s your heaven, that’s your castle.”
- Proven solution: A report commissioned by HUD supports the use of tiny home villages as a “feasible, cost-effective option” to house people experiencing homelessness. The report found that villages “create communal support, benefiting residents’ likelihood of long-term housing, employment, and contentment.”
Homes are $20,000 to $35,000 depending on occupancy and size (rents are based on square footage). This amount includes the cost of the trailer, building materials, interior built-ins, soft goods and furnishings, professional contractor services, and the NOAH seal of inspection. This is roughly 1/10 of the cost of traditional, government-funded, permanent supportive housing in the Twin Cities metro.
We have partnered with the University of Minnesota and American Institute of Architects to create custom-designed, beautiful homes that add aesthetic value to the existing landscape.
All tiny homes are NOAH (National Organization for Affordable Housing) certified, a national standard for Tiny House on Wheels construction. NOAH certification is a rigorous inspection process that ensures each home meets a high standard of quality suitable for full-time, year-round residential living. The NOAH standard meets the structural and energy efficiency standards of the International Residence Code.
While the tiny home movement is strong, many cities, including the Twin Cities metro have yet to recognize this standard. Part of our work, with the support of the faith communities, is to educate and lobby for this new type of affordable housing unit at the state. Peer cities like Fresno, CA, Rockledge, FL and Madison, WI have recognized Tiny Houses on Wheels as an affordable housing option.
Settlements will be a neighborhood asset where we transform an underused space into a safe, clean and beautiful place.
- Bathrooms/water/sewer/kitchen: Each until will have a dry toilet and a gravity-fed water tank and catch basin that is fully enclosed inside the tiny home and would not be in danger of line freeze. A community building accessible by community residents will have flush toilets, showers, a kitchen and communal gathering space, and a place to fill water tanks.
- Cleanliness/garbage: Will be handled by the inhabitants of the Settlement and may be subject to inspection by the Minnesota Department of Health.
- Laundry: Either laundry facilities will be located in the common house or residents will be directed to a nearby laundromat.
- Sub-zero temps. The Tiny Home RV will be NOAH certified. The NOAH standard meets the structural and energy efficiency standards of the International Residence Code, including Zone 6 insulation standards for the Minnesota climate.
The Community First model was developed with the chronically homeless in mind who are most often the hardest to house, have the least options available to them, and are the costliest to society. They also have the most to gain as this home may be the first they have ever felt welcomed, known, and loved.
Our partner organization, Walking with a Purpose, has spent years getting to know every unsheltered person in St. Paul by name. Each week a group of volunteers visit campsites checking in on neighbors and providing much-needed survival gear and food and water. Over the years trusted relationships have been built and knowledge of people’s needs and abilities to live in community have been established. This does not preclude us from working with other homeless populations in the future as individual churches feel called.
Inhabitants, including neighbors coming off the streets and missionals, are required to go through a background check, pay their rent, abide by civil law, and follow the rules of the Settlement. If they are consistently unable to pay rent and not taking advantage of the productive work opportunities and/or if they are a constant disruption to the community they will be asked to leave. In this circumstance, another candidate will move in.
Sacred Settlements are hosted by non-proselytizing, faith-based organizations where all are welcomed but not required to participate in the spiritual life of the community.
Social services are very important for those experiencing long-term homelessness. However, we have found there is an enormous chasm between those who could benefit from these services and the services themselves. Our focus on community and a supportive network of missional neighbors and advocate befrienders is meant to be the bridge of trust, emotional support, and logistics for our friends coming off the street. Each Sacred Settlement will be supported by a network of like-minded partnerships for our future residents to connect with as they gain the stability and desire to begin that healing process.
In Minnesota, 3/4 of homeless adults have experienced significant childhood traumas that make them more likely to suffer from major chronic health issues later in life, as well as mental illnesses, and substance abuse disorders. These issues can best be healed through meaningful relationships in community. In addition to a supportive community, a network of professional like-minded agencies offer a range of supportive services to inhabitants.
Missionals are a central part of a Community First approach. These individuals or families are resourced people who have a calling and desire to live among the poor and be a good neighbor. Missionals augment the role of family by modeling a healthy lifestyle and are a part of a routine support system. They function as equals by paying the same rent and following the same rules as any inhabitant without compensation.
Advocates are people who do not live in the settlement by still desire to come alongside inhabitants as friends. For many people on the street, the world feels set up for them to fail and is overwhelming in its sometimes conflicting agendas and motives. Advocates are invaluable in supporting people in navigating life and fulfilling personal goals.