Couch surfing and the outdoors have been the reality of Benny Predmore for 16 years in upstate New York. He was immersed in drug addiction and because of it, he lost connection with his support system and his family.
In 2017, he found Second Wind, a small village of houses in Newfield, New York, and his life began to change. Under conditions of sobriety and participation in volunteer work, he was able to live in a small house, be surrounded by a community and learn to have real conversations that were not about drugs.
“Sit down and talk about feelings? That wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he said. “Slowly I started to build relationships and started to realize that they don’t judge me when crazy things come out of my mouth.”
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Rooted in the idea that community, not just housing, helps homeless people get back on their feet, the concept of tiny villages is a national phenomenon happening in Indianapolis.
Circle City Village, a small village of houses slated for the west side, will aim to be another option for Indy’s homeless that provides a small, tight-knit community setting to live, recover and seek help. . Like all solutions to homelessness, villages have their challenges, including how to serve people at community and individual level. Circle City Village also chooses not to receive government funding to avoid red tape slowing down their mission.
How it started
Leon Longard, the founder of the nonprofit Circle City Village and chairman of the board of directors, has volunteered and worked in the homelessness outreach and support world in Indianapolis for eight years. He and other board members saw the need for a smaller, more intimate option to support the homeless that was not entangled in government bureaucracy. In 2017, Longard started exploring the idea of small family villages and visited several across the country.
After searching for land to build the village for a few years – and meeting many neighbors who are not in my garden – Pastor Ben Wakefield of Lynhurst Baptist Church stepped in. He had heard of Circle City Village’s struggle to find a piece of land and immediately reached out. The church had significant land that was not in use and Wakefield wanted to donate it to Circle City Village.
“Over the last decade we’ve seen an increase in homelessness on this side, so it’s always been a problem downtown or east, but it’s increased,” Wakefield said. “So I think a lot of people recognize that something has to happen.”
The combination of Westside’s need for a solution to growing homelessness and Wakefield’s generosity enabled Circle City Village to finally find housing in 2019.
How will it be
The village of 18 houses will be south of Lynhurst Baptist Church on South Lynhurst Drive, just northeast of Indianapolis International Airport.
Each of the 324 square foot homes will have a kitchenette, bathroom with shower, and bedroom. A community building will also be constructed with washing machines, a larger kitchen and meeting rooms where organizations can meet with residents. Residents will pay 10% of their income to stay in Circle City Village, but no income is required.
The village will be closed, a safety measure Longard said the homeless told him they wanted. There will also be no drugs or alcohol permitted on the premises, although residents are not required to be sober to stay there. Longard said if a resident returns to the village under the influence, they will be asked to stay in their home and sleep so that the community can be a positive environment for recovering drug addicts.
Longard also hopes that through partnerships with outreach agencies, village residents will have access to medical and mental health care, drug treatment, financial literacy, and pre-employment training.
Anyone who is a registered sex offender or has a violent offense on their record will not be allowed to stay in the village. Other infractions will be discussed on a case-by-case basis.
Longard wants residents to have as much autonomy as possible. There will be a Residents’ Council which will make most of the decisions and the council will advise as necessary. The main village rules will be to respect and not hurt others, as well as going to weekly meetings and volunteering a minimum number of hours.
“We want to strike a balance between not so many rules that it’s oppressive but just enough to keep things safe,” Longard said.
Challenges and achievements of Tiny House Villages
This balance is not specific to the village of Longard. Villages from Washington State to New York also struggle to keep their communities safe and calm for those who live there and to support those with behavioral or mental health issues.
Quixotes Communities, an organization in northwest Washington, has now built three villages of small houses for the homeless. The organization was created to support a tent camp and built the first village for the tent community so that people can continue to live together but with more security and stability.
Executive Director Jaycie Osterberg said breaking the rules is being handled on a case-by-case basis in their communities. It can range from a bad day for a resident to an addiction problem that needs to be addressed.
“It can be very difficult to juggle individual needs with the needs of the community,” Osterberg said.
Osterberg said asking people to leave was their last resort.
Benny Predmore of New York had to leave Second Wind when he relapsed.
It took him a while to prove that he was able to come back and live a sober life. But they let him come back, and he doesn’t know where he would be today if they didn’t.
“They showed me that there is kind of real love,” he said.
He has lived in the village for almost three years and has recently moved into his own accommodation. He is now a maintenance supervisor at a large apartment complex in Ithaca, New York and is in touch again with his family and daughter, whom he has not had a relationship with for years due to his drug use.
“People see the good in me again,” he said. “I really missed it.”
Predmore said that as someone who has lost everything to addiction, the Second Wind community has helped him.
He said the rules and structure of the village had also helped him recover more easily than other programs that provide collective housing, often with continuing drug addicts.
A hybrid housing option
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the ‘Housing First’ method of providing permanent housing and connecting people to support services without preconditions is the most effective way to help people.
“The faster you get people to the permanent place they are going to live, the better it is for them,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the alliance.
Roman said transitional housing, which aims to provide support and structure on the way to housing, is not as effective.
Longard said the village of Indianapolis will be transitional housing, but added that he did not want to place a limit on the length of stay for residents. He said if a resident wants to stay long term and contributes to the village, he can stay. In this way, it will be more of a hybrid model than certain places which are either transitional or permanent housing and will be lower-barrier than certain methods, which sometimes require sobriety.
Although residents do not have as much autonomy as if they had leases, Longard believes that the village follows the “housing first” model and that “community first” is an equally important approach. that the village will offer.
“What we’re trying to do is create an extended family for people,” he said. “We are trying to create an environment where they can again develop a community.”
What’s next for Circle City Village
Last March, the organization dezoned the land and is now planning the next steps in the development of the land before hopefully starting the first small houses in early 2022. Although a few neighbors remain opposed to the village, Longard said they had gotten most of the neighborhood on board with the land rezoning project.
Fundraising is the next hurdle. They only receive private donations and do not wish to be publicly funded because of their desire not to be entangled in government bureaucracy and their goal of being communal.
So far, they have organized small fundraisers, including a run and a solidarity camp. On August 28, they will have a carnival next to the Lynhurst Baptist Church where all proceeds will go to the village. But the group needs big funds to create the village of their dreams. They are to raise $ 1.8 million for construction, staffing and a sustainability fund, which could also be in-kind donations and volunteer services. Each house will cost around $ 40,000 to build. They have raised $ 16,000 so far.
Melissa Burgess, who worked at the Indianapolis Horizon House homeless day shelter for 11 years, said the village would fill a gap that exists in the city.
“It’s another option for people,” she said. “Housing has to meet people where they are. “
Burgess and Osterberg recognized that the model is not for everyone. Introverts may not like the feeling of community. But Burgess said there should be a buffet of options for the homeless because everyone is different.
“If we’re a progressive city that wants to end homelessness, that’s just another piece of the puzzle,” said Burgess.
Contact Pulliam Fellow Lilly St. Angelo at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @lilly_st_ang