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Minnesota nonprofit builds tiny home communities for the homeless

A local nonprofit is dreaming big by using tiny home communities to help people find meaningful and trusting relationships.

MAPLEWOOD, Minnesota — We've seen the encampments across the Twin Cities; clusters of those experiencing homelessness looking for shelter.

The nonprofit Settled is literally building solutions in tiny homes.

"So each home has all the things you need for basic life functions. So you have a bed, you have a sitting area, you have a kitchen where you can make a simple meal," explained Anne Franz, co-founder and COO of Settled.

In Maplewood, you can tour a demonstration site and visit different types of tiny homes that are meant to be part of a larger community called "Sacred Settlements."

One is ready to go up on the east side of Saint Paul.

"We want them to be productive places. We just think this will be, this is a solution that can meet the scale of need of homelessness in our community," said Franz.

It's a large need. A recent report found Minnesota has the13th highest rate of homelessness in the country.

While researching homelessness at the University of Minnesota, Settled co-founder Gabrielle Clowdus realized, "It's not just housing that people lack, you know, it's really community and family."

With that in mind, Clowdus and Franz came up with their concept, which is inspired by the Community First! Village in Austin, Texas.

"They're building their next 250 homes and you have people, everyone from teachers to doctors to you know, multimillionaires actually moving out of their single family homes and living next to the formerly chronically homeless in their own tiny homes," said Clowdus.

Each of Minnesota's "Sacred Settlements" would consist of individual tiny homes that are built by volunteers, along with a common house where people can do laundry, shower, cook and have community meals with neighbors.

"What we really realized is, that the secret sauce of all of this is that if housed and unhoused will come and live together intentionally and be interdependent, you know, it's what we all need," said Clowdus.

Jamal Love is preparing to be a "friend advocate," for one of the sacred settlements.

"Instead of moving into the community, what we'll do is serve as extended family to people that are in the community," explained Love.

He continued, "I think that's what is so attractive about Settled. We're not just trying to store people; we're trying to give people homes." 

Each tiny home is sponsored by a different church or business. They cost anywhere from $25,000 for a single occupancy unit to $40,000 for a model built for couples.

The settlements would be built on underutilized church property. Settled is currently looking for more sites.

To learn more about the nonprofit and its initiative, visit Settled's website.