The Rev. Connie Pearson-Campbell calls it a “God moment.” She says divine influence put Ralph Johnson in her path last summer.
She’d been at the city offices to learn whether building codes in Bozeman, Montana, allowed for tiny homes, residences generally smaller than 400 square feet. She thought the trendy spaces could fill a gap in the city’s anti-homelessness efforts.
Johnson, an architecture professor at Montana State University, was in meetings about potential student projects. A city engineer sent one of his aides to catch the Rev. Pearson-Campbell before she left the building, telling her and Johnson they might be able to help one another.
“Right then and there, the collaboration was born,” said the Rev. Pearson-Campbell, a deacon at St. James Episcopal Church.
In the nine months since that chance encounter, the pair have launched a broad community effort they hope will address chronic homelessness. Along with Bozeman’s Human Resource Development Council, a nonprofit that addresses homelessness in the city, they’ve planned and begun collecting donations for Housing First Village, a tiny-home development that will include dozens of single-occupant units, a traditional warming shelter and a resource center providing health care checkups, counseling and other social services.
“I’m getting asked on a weekly basis to speak to more groups about how they can help,” the Rev. Pearson-Campbell said.
The project is popular, at least in part, because tiny homes are having a moment right now, according to organizers. Since gaining popularity on shows like HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters,” they’ve emerged as a way to eliminate mortgage debt, generate rental income and expand a city’s affordable housing options.
Tiny homes have also become a unique ministry opportunity for churches. In some cities, such as Nashville, Tennessee, and Bozeman, faith communities are donating time and money to develop tiny-home neighborhoods for homeless people. Elsewhere, churches are putting these houses on their own property and creating a more direct link between their members and people in need.
The Rev. John Floberg, rector of two Episcopal churches in North Dakota, said sharing the same lot as tiny homes will deepen the impact worshippers will have on residents.
“They’ll be able to feel our support,” he said. Four tiny homes, which should open in August, will share the same septic system as St. James’ Episcopal Church in Cannon Ball, and residents will be able to use the church’s kitchen and laundry machines.
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