The community-first model rests on the philosophical assumption that, the single greatest cause of homelessness is the 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 long-term 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 naturally occurring affordable housing than we are gaining in our country every year. And to make matters worse, across the seven-county metro area, there are virtually no available subsidized housing options and nearly all the waiting lists are closed. 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 in a place where they can belong and contribute.
In our hundreds of listening sessions, we have learned that people experiencing homelessness find dignity in simple features such as a lock and key, privacy and “a roof over my head when the snow come.” In fact, they prefer more housing be built with fewer amenities instead of the status quo that leaves people on the streets. James, a previously homeless man, said it best, “If [decision makers] were in our position, that’s your heaven, that’s your castle.”
Sacred Settlements are an innovative, research-based way to address long-term homelessness by developing holistic tiny home communities in cooperation with a faith community.
Each resident has their own very-cost rooming unit (i.e. tiny home) around common facilities and placed on under-utilized land of religious institutions. 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.
These settlements are designed to foster community through regular interactions with others and working with the broader community to live a lifestyle of service. Specially-trained missional-neighbors live in the settlement and work with all the members to ensure that the settlement is healthy and thriving. A team of advocate-befrienders wrap around inhabitants coming off the streets to build trusted relationships, walk alongside them as they journey to meet their life goals, and connect them with valuable support services.
The current system to serve the homeless cannot meet the scale of need in our state. Minnesota has a shortage of 17,000 units of supportive housing which would require $4.3 Billion in bonding. Sacred Settlements are a privately-funded solution designed to bridge the gap between emergency shelter and costly conventional development.
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.
While new to Minnesota, Sacred Settlements are very similar to the year-round camper cabins in MN state parks with centralized bathroom facilities.
Settled leads the fundraising, operational model, home and site design, construction management, legal and media strategy, develops and facilitates training, and provides work opportunities for inhabitants in product making.
Faith communities acting as a host site for a Sacred Settlement, with guidance and support from Settled, maintain ownership and insurance on the development, property management, and provide on-site work opportunities for inhabitants, alongside routine shared meals and activities as they are led and able.
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 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.
The State Building Code does not currently recognize our housing model - an individual rooming unit of less than 400 square feet, built on wheels, and located around common cooking, toilet and bathing facilities - as permanent housing. Our goal is to change the laws at the state law to allow for broader adoption of this solution across the state.
In the 2020 session, the bill received tri-partisan support in the MN Senate and bi-partisan in the MN House. You may find the most recent progress by searching for House File 1484 or Senate File 1145. If you are interested in supporting the bill, please contact Anne Krisnik, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neither the Department of Labor and Industry, the Department of Health nor the MN Pollution Control Agency has claimed jurisdiction over this endeavor. As such, we are working with municipalities to approve individual developments and adopt their own standards and inspection requirements using the draft legislation as a guide.
- 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.
Homes sponsorships are $35,000 This amount includes the cost of the trailer, building materials, interior built-ins, soft goods and furnishings, contractor services, professional oversight, and third-party inspection. If you would like to sponsor a home click here.
Working closely with the Department of Labor and the Minnesota League of Cities, we have developed stringent building standards for tiny homes in a Sacred Settlement. The standards are based in large part on those recommended by the national Tiny House Industry Association for what is known nationally as a “Moveable Tiny Home”.
Inspections will be conducted either by an accredited third party or MN Professional Engineer. Any building renovations for the shared facilities and site preparation are subject to municipal building and grading permits.
Unlike recreational vehicles, these homes are heated, insulated, and ventilated like a single-family home. Each home will be heated with a natural gas heater and insulated according to zone 6 standards from the International Residence Code.
Each unit 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. This allows inhabitants to use these options short-term if they are sick or need access in the middle of the night.
For normal conditions, a community building accessible 24/7 by inhabitants with flush toilets, showers, a kitchen and communal gathering space, laundry facilities, and a place to fill water tanks.
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 inhabitants 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 but 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.