SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A simple idea to help the homeless population in Springfield has now blossomed into a successful non-profit that builds and maintains an entire housing community for disabled homeless individuals.
In 2010, a group of 10 individuals from a local church created The Gathering Tree, a non-profit organization to help battle homelessness. Dr. David and Linda Brown led The Gathering Tree into opening a ‘drop-in center’ where homeless residents could drop-in to hang out and get to know others in the community. The group then had the dream to build permanent housing for the friends that they were meeting through The Gathering Tree.
In February of 2016, Chief Visionary Officer Nate Schlueter proposed the idea of building small housing communities for the chronically homeless. By August of 2016, the group found the perfect property for their dream and began raising money to build the first village, which would eventually become Eden Village.
To live at Eden Village, an individual must be homeless for a year or longer, must have the ability to pay a small rental fee of $300 and have a disabling condition. Utilities are included in the rental fee, and no deposit is required.
If a resident begins to struggle with finances, there are assorted organizations who can help cover a month or two of rent, such as local churches.
The living spaces inside Eden Village are approximately 398 square feet with 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom and a living/dining kitchen area. The tall ceilings and several windows produce plenty of natural sunlight and make each unit feel larger than its actual size. Maintenance checks are done once a month by ground staff.
A free laundry facility is on-site along with a community garden, first aid office and a community recreation center. The rec center is full of activities and amenities tailored for people who have previously been homeless such as recovery programs, mental health classes, counseling, case workers, ministry, and even community movie nights. The center is also used to celebrate holidays.
“The idea of Eden Village is that the root cause of homelessness is the catastrophic loss of family,” said Schlueter. “As a family, their family is forming a safety net that is carrying them from being out in the woods or being under a bridge. Our friends here don’t have the same kind of safety net typically. We can use the community to form a similar safety net. It’s relational, it’s about community building. Your neighbors form that safety net.”
Schlueter says it was just three weeks ago that a resident was on his porch and told neighbors that he was having ‘chest cramps’ and needed to go lay down. No staff was on site because the occurrence happened during the weekend hours. Other residents of Eden Village took it upon themselves to call an ambulance and found that the resident was indeed having a heart attack.
“He was around people who care about him saying, ‘No, it’s not a chest cramp, I’m your neighbor, let me help you,’ and they saved his life,” Schlueter said.
The Gathering Tree/Eden Village began building a second location at 3155 West Brower Street, dubbed as ‘Eden Village II’ back in February of 2020. Next month, the group will celebrate the last resident moving into the new village. The group plans on building three more Eden Villages in Springfield, with a total of five inside the city when they are done.
As uncertainty grows across the nation, the idea for Eden Villages has caught on in other places. The newest village was recently built in Wilmington, North Carolina. Kansas City and Washington D.C. have also been planning their own Eden Village communities.
“The mission here is to change people’s perception of homelessness by exposing you to the humanity of the person that was living on the streets,” said Schlueter.
Those interested in finding out more information on Eden Village can visit The Gathering Tree’s website.