“Would anyone in the community even notice if our church closed?”
That was the question Pastor Donald Foster asked his small congregation of just 30 members in Yakima, Washington.
For the members of Terrace Heights Assembly it was a life-changing question.
Local residents are paying attention as two new tiny homes sit on the church property, ready to house the homeless. It’s another example of how small churches can have a huge impact.
Foster, 64, began meeting daily four years ago with a group of other men in the area for prayer. Through the group’s connections, Foster became director of an extreme weather shelter for the homeless. He also met Andy Ferguson, the man who would help co-found Transform Yakima Together, a nonprofit dedicated to helping churches to connect to the community.
After attending the Northwest Ministry Network conference on rural America, Foster started reading a recommended book on the outward-focused church. Ferguson subsequently asked if Terrace Heights would consider constructing a pair of tiny homes on the church property as a pilot program to combat homelessness. Foster thought it would be a perfect fit.
Ferguson says erecting tiny homes for the homeless on church properties avoids creating pockets of homelessness. He says residents find homelessness more manageable if churches are willing to take on a couple of homeless people rather than shuttling the problem to a specified area of town.
“That’s huge because part of the problem for homeless people is their isolation,” Ferguson said. “Putting them in a healthy community of the church that can embrace them is good for the homeless person and good for the church. It makes the homeless person a person and not a statistic.”
Terrace Heights Assembly voted unanimously to allow the two tiny homes, owned by Transforming Yakima Together, on the church property.
A year later, after setbacks in construction and delays from infamous government regulations and codes, a mother and infant have been selected for the first home. Another mother with children ages 1 and 2 soon will live in the other dwelling. Ferguson says the residents of the tiny homes, which measure 10-by-20 feet–about the same size as an expensive studio apartment in most urban areas, will have a care manager working with them to assess what they need to move forward with their lives. The residences include a bathroom, shower, and kitchen area that contains a small refrigerator, microwave oven, and hot plate for cooking.
Although this is a test season for the project, eventually Ferguson hopes the organization can place 200 tiny homes around the county.
Foster is encouraged that infrequent attendees and even those with no connection to the church have donated funds that helped pay for site improvements and utilities for the homes.
The church also built a laundry room in another building on campus, that includes a 24-by-30-foot area with couches, tables, and a microwave for social gatherings. Church attendees plan to invite the two families to game nights, events, and dinner in individual homes.
“We only have 30 on a Sunday morning here, so it’s significant doing something like this,” Foster says. “You wonder if you are accomplishing anything, and then God gives you the opportunity to do this.”