The head of Hand in Hand told those attending the groundbreaking of the tiny home village Thursday the project marks an important step in addressing the homeless problem in Brunswick.
“It is because of all of you that we are beginning this journey together,” Ann Stembler, president of Hand in Hand of Glynn, the organization responsible for creating the concept of a 60 tiny home community, told the dozens of people present at the site of the former Altama Presbyterian Church on Altama Avenue.
“The generosity of this community has been amazing.”
The organization initially planned to purchase Harper’s Joy, an old hospital that recently housed mentally disabled residents until people living nearby expressed concerns about the potential for the facility to become a magnet for the homeless.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise when Hand in Hand officials decided to abandon the plans. Instead of being able to provide a home for 24 people in the old hospital building, the new location will provide homes for 60.
Stembler said the goal is to create a village that other cities will want to emulate.
“We felt strongly that if you show it works, it could happen in other communities,” she said.
Linda Heagy, the organization’s treasurer, said Brunswick has a 37 percent poverty rate, among the worst in the nation.
“It doesn’t take much to push a person over the edge into homelessness,” she said. “This is a compassionate community.”
Heagy said the city is undergoing a renaissance and the initiative to help the homeless is part of that effort. She said what her organization plans to do to help 60 people could be done in other cities for 600 or 6,000 people.
The first 16 homes planned for construction will be filled soon after they are completed.
Work is also planned for the old Sunday school building, which will serve as a community center where a wide assortment of services will be provided for the residents. Some of the services and classes on site will include physical and mental health, cooking, life skills and computer training. A laundry room and community meeting room will be housed in the Sunday school building as well.
A tall, wooden privacy fence has already been erected around three sides of the 4.25-acre site. Plans call for enclosing the stretch along Altama Avenue with decorative fencing.
The site will have security once residents move into the complex.
The occupants will be single men and women who have been identified as being homeless the longest. They will be screened and required to sign agreements before moving into one of the 240-square-foot residences.
The occupants will be required to pay a portion of their income to live in the units, but there is no time limit.
They will be allowed to live in the homes as long as they comply with the rules.
There is still work to do to make a 60-home village a reality. Stembler said about $3 million has been raised so far, but they need another $1.5 million to complete the project.
Hand in Hand of Glynn is seeking donations of money, materials or services. Go to handinhandofglynn.org for more information or to donate.