'Tommy, welcome to Eden Village. Welcome to God's project'
'Tommy, welcome to Eden Village. Welcome to God's project'
By JACKIE REHWALD
Sep. 07, 2018
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — As the crowd swelled at Eden Village's grand opening Aug. 28, Tommy Yarberry leaned against the fence and watched.
"I didn't get too sleep much last night," he said. "It was hot, and this was on my mind. I kept thinking about it."
He said later that it sometimes feels like he "went from a homeless person to a rock star."
More than 400 people showed up to see Yarberry get the key to his new home.
Yarberry, 61, had been homeless for three years. The night before, he'd slept in a tent not far from Eden Village.
The Springfield News-Leader reports that Eden Village, a planned community of tiny homes for chronically homeless people, is located at the site of a former mobile home park at 2801 E. Division St.
It is a project of the Gathering Tree, an evening drop-in center for homeless people. The Gathering Tree and Eden Village were founded by Dr. David and Linda Brown.
The Browns spoke at the grand opening. Yarberry was among those seated on stage, alongside Rep. Billy Long, Sun Solar CEO Caleb Arthur and Bishop Edward Rice.
"In 2016 we had a vision. In 2018, it's a reality," an emotional Linda Brown said. "And it's God's reality. It's not ours. We give Him the glory because there is no way we could have done this on our own.
"I also applaud all the many, many volunteers that have worked hard and helped us to make this dream come true today," she continued. "We are excited to house 30 of our wonderful homeless friends, to get them off the streets so they won't have another winter out in the cold."
Linda Brown went on to say they are looking for property to build a second Eden Village.
"So if anybody has a vacant mobile home park, let us know," she said.
Since the 4.5 acre-tract of land was already zoned for manufactured homes, the Browns did not have to bother with a zoning battle.
Eden Village COO Nate Schlueter also spoke at the grand opening. He introduced Yarberry to the crowd.
"Today God is leading him to a community he can settle in," Schlueter said. "Tommy is the same kind of different as me. Like me, he was created in the image of a good and loving God. He has God-given talents. Like me, he likes the color blue and, like me, he likes to read the Bible."
"But Tommy is different than me, too," Schlueter said. "Last night Tommy slept in a hidden campsite just down the road on Division Street. He's been on and off the streets for years. ... Tommy is one of our friends that sleep outside, but tonight, he sleeps inside."
The crowd clapped and cheered as Schlueter turned and invited Yarberry up to the microphone.
"Tommy, welcome to Eden Village," Schlueter said. "Welcome to God's project. Welcome to your forever home."
Yarberry, who told the News-Leader earlier that he is bashful, briefly addressed the crowd.
"When I look out on the crowd, I have a lot of hope, a lot of love," he said. "I'm going to say this quick because I'm going to cry. ... This is one of the happiest days of my life."
Then, Yarberry was given the key. He and his "move-in team" (four volunteers who are helping him get settled) made their way through the crowd, up the stairs and into his tiny home.
Yarberry moved into the Huntsman House, a tiny home purchased by Judy Huntsman and her team at Coldwell Banker Vanguard back in 2016.
It was the first tiny home to arrive and served as a model while the property was prepared, concrete pads poured and other homes set up.
Inside, Yarberry found his favorite meal — a homemade pot roast — waiting in a Crock-Pot, thanks to his move-in team. They also stocked his cabinets and refrigerator.
"It's unreal," he told reporters, as he sat on his new bed. "It's something I can be proud of that I don't have to worry about getting stole."
Yarberry said he is excited about having a door to lock, a shower and a refrigerator.
He offered these messages to those struggling with homelessness: Don't lose hope. There are good people out there. Don't get cynical. Keep the faith.
Just before Yarberry was given the key, Schlueter said he wanted to again go over the rules — this time so the more than 400 people who attended Aug. 28 could also hear.
"I want you guys to hear the rules, too," Schlueter said. "It's missing a lot of the typical rules that you have when you house people in poverty. Sometimes we want to manage people and we want them to do things that we think they should do. When in reality that might not be their hope or dream."
There is no smoking in the homes or the community building. Cigarette butts must be disposed of in the proper receptacles and ashtrays.
Pets must be approved by management and always on a leash.
There is no alcohol in community spaces.
"But just like me and my neighbors, you are free to drink in your home," Schlueter said. "We expect you to abide by civil law. We don't make it. We don't even enforce it. But I know the phone number to the guys that do. So obey the law."
Guests have to be approved and must leave by 10 p.m. Residents can have overnight guests up to four times a month.
"Does that sound fair and simple," Schlueter asked Yarberry.
Yarberry nodded and said it does.
"Tommy, I have the honor of presenting you with your keys," Schlueter said, handing the key over. "As long as you pay your rent and abide by the rules and obey the law, this is your permanent and forever home."
Since the Eden Village project kicked off, 29 homes have been sponsored by families, businesses and banks. Even the children and teens from the Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau raised money to buy a house at Eden Village.
Fourteen homes have already been moved to the site. There will soon be 31.
Manufactured in Athens, Texas, the homes span about 400 square feet and cost $30,000, with one bedroom, one bathroom and a kitchen.
Sun Solar donated enough panels to make Eden Village almost entirely sustainable. The Venues church donated a storm shelter. And nearly all of the work that has been done — from building the fence to painting the community center — has been done by volunteers.
Eden Village will specifically house individuals who qualify as "chronically homeless" by standards of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
These are people who have experienced homelessness for at least a year — or repeatedly — while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability.
Eden Village residents, many of whom are on disability, will pay their own rent at $300 a month.
There is no deposit and utilities are included. The actual cost to house someone at Eden Village including all the amenities and services offered is about $550 a month, said COO Nate Schlueter, so the nonprofit will continue to seek donations and grants.
In Yarberry's case, he is able to work and pay his own rent.
Soon, a woman named Nancy Lawrence will move into the turquoise home across the path from Yarberry's.
Lawrence, 68, is deaf and has been sleeping in her car for four years.
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com