Church hoping tiny homes may help solve big problems

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The sign outside Faith Lutheran Church in Forest Lake doesn't mince words.

"#LoveThyNeighbor – (no exceptions)," it reads.

"Our congregation has a long history of being passionate about homelessness," said Pastor John Klawiter. "We have a moral obligation to help our neighbor, that this is a calling from God."

Just this past Sunday, congregation members voted, 155-58, to explore the possibility of bringing 10-12 tiny homes onto church property to shelter the homeless.

Creating what's known as a 'sacred settlement.'

"A sacred settlement is a cluster of tiny homes on religious land," Gabrielle Clowdus, a spokesperson for the homeless advocacy group 'Settled' explains. "These are people who are pushed to the outskirts of society. They're holding up signs at the side of the road, we look away."

Experts say there are about 1,000 chronically homeless people in the metro area — those who have been living on the street for a year or longer, or have been without shelter three times in four years, who also have a disability.

"The number one reason why we don't have enough affordable housing in the U.S. is NIMBYism – not in my backyard," Clowdus says. "There's pushback for affordable housing. But something we want to do is be a neighborhood asset."

From the outside, a tiny home looks like an icehouse on wheels.

They are small — about 100 square feet. But, they are equipped with bathroom facilities, storage drawers and a sleeping area. And most important: a way to stay out of the cold.

The units cost about $20,000 each.

The hope is that area churches will sponsor the homes.

Church leaders admit they could face pushback, but are promising to hold informational community meetings and say a screening process for the occupants will be in place.

"Criminal background checks are a part of it," Klawiter said. "Sexual misconduct or sexual predators would not be the ideal residents living here."

This is far from a done deal. The project will need zoning approval and enough funding.

But, organizers say the idea could be a new start for homeless people and the community.

"People actually have a place where they belong, where they're known, where they can grow roots and be settled," Clowdus said.

There's no timeline yet, but if the project gets the go-ahead, tiny homes could appear on the property in the next year or two.

"We do feel like God's calling us to say, 'this is the path I'm showing you right now and church, step up and take the lead,'" said Klawiter??????.