Retiree Moves Downtown and Realizes How Awful the Homeless Problem Is — So She Started Building Homes for The Houseless Herself
“I had to do something.”
Linda Brown, a former nurse, and realtor from Springfield, Missouri, found that her proudest life accomplishments happened after she retired when she became an advocate for the local homeless community.
It was only after Linda and her husband, David, moved into a loft in downtown Springfield that they became aware of the extent of the homeless population and decided they needed to help do something about it.
Creating a Safe Haven for the Less Fortunate
In 2010, the Browns co-founded The Gathering Tree, a Springfield homeless drop-in shelter where people experiencing homelessness could come by for a meal, a shower, to do their laundry, or simply play a board game. The Gathering Tree was a safe place that offered a brief respite from the streets.
“It was during these years of associating with my homeless friends that I developed an in-depth understanding of homelessness and its many causes,” Brown told the Springfield Business Journal. “I realized that what we were providing was not a solution to homelessness, although it provided for a need.”
In her quest to transform her hometown into “a city where no one sleeps outside”, the mother of six’s research led her in the direction of tiny-house communities.
“I have personally witnessed many individuals, who were down and out with no hope, regain self-worth and a new life of meaning,” Brown says.
Listening to their stories over the years, Brown discovered that many individuals became homeless due to a lack of a safety net, with their physical or mental disabilities being too challenging to navigate alone.
Building a Community of Tiny-Homes
Together with the help of a number of community organizations, The Gathering Tree raised a whopping $4.75 million dollars, which they used to convert an abandoned mobile home park into a community of tiny-homes offering permanent housing to disabled people experiencing homelessness.
The tiny-homes arrive on wheels attached to their steel frames, which qualifies them as recreational vehicles. The property, therefore, didn’t need to be rezoned for tiny-home trailers, and the infrastructure and utilities were already in place.
The property, named Eden Village, opened in 2018, with thirty-one tiny homes.
Eden Village includes a 4000-square-foot community center where residents can use the kitchen to cook meals together, do their laundry, and access a medical center run by student nurse volunteers and mental health counselors.
“No longer are they the forgotten, invisible members of society but they have a home of their own and a community of friends that love them and care about them.” Said Brown.
The 400-square-foot homes come fully furnished and have a rent of $300 per month, which includes utilities. Residents can remain in their homes as long as they wish, provided they remain a good neighbor in the community.
Eden Village’s root philosophy is that whatever has caused a person to be homeless cannot be addressed properly until that person’s needs for housing are met.
“Linda Saw Me as a Human Being”
Jonathan Fisher is one of the residents living in Eden Village. When he met Linda Brown, he had been homeless and living on the streets for two years.
“In the worst moments of my life, Linda gave me guidance, care, and made me feel like I was still worth something,” told Fisher to NAR’s Melissa Tracey. “She took the time to learn about how I became homeless, and encouraged me to rebuild my life.”
Fisher now works full-time for Brown helping to construct and maintain the tiny-homes and offering a helping hand to those suffering the same struggles he went experienced.
“I was used to others not making eye contact as they walked by, pretending I wasn’t there.” Said Fisher. “Linda saw me as a human being.”
In 2020, Linda Brown was awarded the Good Neighbor Award by the National Association of Realtors. In her acceptance speech, she gave an insight into creating Eden Village:
“The turning point for me was when I watched as my (homeless) friends walked off into the darkness to a hidden, wet, cold camp while we went home to a warm bed. I knew that I had to do something,”
“My vision is that the tiny-home village is a place where chronically disabled human beings experiencing homelessness can live with dignity and self-worth.”
Eden Village 2 opened in November 2021. The second location houses 24 people and work has begun on Eden Village 3, which endeavors to create homes for up to 80 people in various duplexes. Over the next six years, Brown hopes to build five villages with housing for 200 people experiencing homelessness.
The organization is now working with non-profits across the United States to develop more tiny-house communities to house the homeless.
Linda Brown’s mantra of “love one another” is a good one to live by! Do you have the same one?