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Forest Lake church hopes to add tiny homes to house homeless veterans

"The topic of homelessness is something that's been a part of our congregation for a long time."

FOREST LAKE, Minn. — Most churches take pride in welcoming all who visit, but Faith Lutheran Church in Forest Lake hopes rolling out the welcome mat will eventually include rolling mobile tiny homes into their parking lot. 

The church, in partnership with Settled, a nonprofit which works to end homelessness, wants to place 12 tiny homes on the Faith Lutheran property to house homeless veterans in Washington County. 

"The topic of homelessness is something that's been a part of our congregation for a long time," said Faith Lutheran Church Senior Pastor John Klawiter. 

Klawiter says the congregation voted Sunday in approval of the idea, which the church and Settled call a "Sacred Settlement."

"Our congregation actually just established a new mission statement of led by the Spirit to share God's grace," said Klawiter. "Yes, we're being led by the Spirit, but we're also being led to share ... that has to do with our land, that has to do with everything we have that we can give back."

The veterans, who Klawiter says will be vetted before moving in, will find refuge in the homes, which are expected to run around $20,000 each. 

Credit: KARE
The interior of a prototype for the tiny homes which Faith Lutheran Church hopes to add to their property.

"This has never been done anywhere before," said Settled Co-founder and CEO, Gabrielle Clowdus. 

Clowdus is a research fellow and PhD candidate studying housing at the University of Minnesota.

"Looking at what are the huge barriers to building affordable housing, I would say that the number one reason that we are just in a huge deficit is that kind of NIMBY-ism, the 'Not in My Backyard'" said Clowdus.

But if it's the backyard of a church, the rules are different. That's due to the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

"Which essentially allows faith communities to carry out their mission on their land," said Clowdus. "So if a faith community can prove that their mission is to care for the poor ... and that the way that they want to care for the poor is by inviting them into their abundance, onto their land and through tiny homes, then that neighborhood opposition kind of falls flat."

While the law applies to zoning requirements, Clowdus says it doesn't apply to building codes, which is why the tiny homes would be on wheels, so they aren't required to have plumbing and other features which would drive up the cost. Instead, veterans would go to a common area to use bathrooms and a kitchen. 

The idea still has a long way to go, much of the plans haven't been finalized yet and Clowdus says they plan on hosting meetings with community members. 

They hope the homes are up by 2021. 

The church says they hope to work with the city on this plan. The mayor of Forest Lake says they've had a meeting with the church about the tiny homes, but are waiting to hear more details about the plan before commenting further.

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