Massive Problem, Tiny Solutions

Jesus’ words in John 15:4, “Make your home in me as I do in you” must be meaningless to those deprived of housing. In California, which ranks 49th out of 50 states in homes per capita, that’s a lot of people.

“Based on a January census widely believed to underestimate the true figures, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that the nation’s homeless population grew by about 15,000 people to about 568,000, or 2.7%. The number of Californians without homes, meanwhile, spiked by more than 21,000 to nearly 130,000, or 16.4%. While the nation’s homeless population remains about 10% lower than it was a decade ago, California’s has expanded more than 22% in that time.” (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/24/19)

But heartening solutions are in the works.

On Jan. 8, ’20, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a budget of more than $1 billion to fight homelessness. His executive order requires state agencies to take urgent and immediate action by January 31 to make available state properties and facilities to rapidly increase housing and shelter options. Admirable action, when California has a shortage of 3.5 million homes. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf brokered a deal between a real estate investment group which owns properties that stand empty, the squatters Moms 4 Housing, and a non profit community land trust to convert these buildings to affordable housing.

While those are larger-scale responses, one with particular appeal is the effort of First Presbyterian Church, Hayward. It all began when Pastor Jake Medcalf met a desperate man at the door, and could offer him only a blanket. Realizing the man clearly needed shelter, the pastor looked around at his 4-acre space and said, “this is the best we can do?”

Thus began the tiny home project which could inspire other churches. The first project of its kind, it relied on the expertise of six for-profit developers who volunteered their services. As Jeff Scofield, one of them said, “I …believe that everybody deserves a roof over their head…. And the fact we have the skill set and relationships that can help with supplying homes puts us in a unique position to help with this problem.”

Once the first residents have moved into their six tiny homes on the church parking lot in February, Medcalf and partners plan to expand, bringing tiny homes to other church parking lots around the East Bay area. Each one is small, but has a toilet, shower, stove, heater, fan and bed. In addition First Presbyterian offers a safe-parking lot program that allows eight people at a time to sleep in their cars on the church lot. One of those, Ruth Soares is praying she’ll get a tiny home. Working as an in-home caregiver for the elderly, her monthly income of $2000 isn‘t enough for a market-rate apartment.

The initial process of permitting took two years, but construction took only six weeks, and the next projects should move more quickly since guidelines are now in place. As many churches, mosques and synagogues deal with the realities of ageing populations and extra space, could they too start thinking creatively about better uses for under-utilized areas? “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:2).


Retreat led by Kathy Coffey: “Those Feisty Gospel Women”

San Damiano Center, 710 Highland Dr., Danville, CA (925)-837-9141        March 27-29, 2020

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