Tiny Homes Fulfill Big Dreams

   

Owning your own home, it’s part of the American dream, right? Not if you’re homeless. But in Detroit, one fearless woman, Rev. Faith Fowler is making that dream come true.

The nonprofit, Cass Community Social Services (CCSS), run by Rev. Fowler, initiated the Cass Community Tiny Homes as the first project of its kind to offer rent-to-own properties to those on the lowest rung of the economic spectrum. Fowler started the project to give people who would otherwise never have an opportunity to own a home, just that, a home of their own.

“We were looking for a way to help homeless and other low-income people gain an asset,” Fowler explained over email.

 

You’ve probably seen the tiny homes, perhaps on a trailer behind a pickup truck or maybe on TV. They’re cute, they’re cool and they serve a purpose. And while the Detroit Tiny Homes are like what you may have seen, they are also atypical. The Cass Community Tiny Homes (CCTH) is the first to offer rent-to-own properties.

Here’s how it works: CCTH finds people in shelters and through neighborhood canvassing who would like to move into a home, but don’t have the financial wherewithal to do so. I mean, these folks are homeless. Who thinks about owning a home when you don’t know where you’re going to sleep tonight? For people who can’t qualify for a regular mortgage, much less have a down payment, but have a steady source of income, the tiny house project offers a solution to both homelessness and rebuilding a life. Prospective residents must apply. Then the organization begins a review process, culminating in an interview. Once accepted, the tenants start a yearly lease, paying rent no more than a third of their monthly salary.

Each unit rents for $1 per square foot, which comes to $250 – $400 a month for a 250-400 square-foot house. Because the tiny homes are built for energy efficiency, utilities aren’t all that expensive; they usually run about $35 a month. After renting for three years, tenants will be offered a land contract to “rent to own” their homes within four years.  Could CCTH shorten the process? Sure they could. The lengthy process is intentional and meant to help residents develop financial discipline about paying their bills on time. No one wants to see them lose their houses to unpaid water bills or taxes.

After seven years of paying rent, the lease converts to ownership. Sounds easy, but there are requirements. The renters must attend monthly financial coaching and home-ownership classes.

At this writing, the Detroit Tiny Homes community has enough property to build 25 single-family homes ranging from 250 – 400 square feet. Seven tiny homes are currently occupied and six more are in the process of being built.

One of the most heartwarming aspects of the project is that the tiny homes border the CCSS campus. This is significant because unlike many low-income housing projects, residents live side-by-side, mixed in with the local community rather than apart from it. It’s not just houses, albeit tiny ones, it’s a community.

Ultimately there will be 25 different house styles in Phase One for singles and couples, a different design on each lot. Phase Two will be for families and a commercial strip. And as the photos illustrate, unlike most shelters, these residences aren’t bleak or cheerless. Each one sports a beautiful façade, chock full lots of details and a unique architectural style.

While you might assume that the project is government-funded, it’s not. The development is funded entirely by private donations and foundations, including the Ford Motor Fund, the RNR Foundation, and the McGregor Fund.

If successful, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, these tiny housing developments could change everything for Detroit’s low-income families. Where once there was despair, these families can settle into a life they only dreamed about – the American Dream of owning property that they can pass down to their children and future generations. It doesn’t get any better than that.

For more information please click here.

 

 

Reasons to be Thankful

It’s that time of year when we reflect upon all the blessings in our lives. While the “thankful” part of Thanksgiving seems to have taken a back seat to football, Black Friday specials starting in the afternoon and a general sense of malaise, it remains an important holiday in our American culture. It makes us stop whatever we are doing and think about all that we have, not what we don’t. Which is kind of an oxymoron with the commercialization of Christmas right around the corner, encouraging people to overspend, over consume and be sure to buy presents for themselves while shopping for others. With that in mind I started thinking about what I am thankful for this year, which by the way for reasons I will keep private, has not been an easy year. Nevertheless there is much for which I am grateful; here are a few of them:

reasons-sign

Family. We don’t always agree nor do we see each other much due to living all over the country. Even so, they are mine and I love them.

I’ve always looked at life through my own pair of rose-colored glasses. From an early age, these special glasses instilled in me the ability to see the proverbial “cup” as half-full, even when it isn’t. This is the source of my optimism.

I believe that people are essentially good and have good intentions, though their behavior indicates otherwise. Call me a Pollyanna. This viewpoint gives me an unwavering capacity to recognize the best in every situation, to be able to find the silver lining. It is that silver living that gives me hope for humanity.  I trust that a good heart will always prevail over one full of deceit or venom. Karma has a way of evening out the playing field.

Call me naïve — I’ve always maintained that given a choice, people will do what is right. Time and again I have witnessed the opposite; even so, that does not dampen my faith in humanity.

Taking the high road is always the best route. There’s something to be said for civility, grace and treating one another with the utmost respect, which these days seems to be a lost art. Even so I think it’s the best way to travel.

Trusting gut instincts and a keen intuition. Everyone has these abilities; we are all born with them. I am incredibly grateful that mine are still intact because they never fail me when I listen to them. If something feels wrong it’s because it usually is.

We all have voices in our heads, they are our conscience. I listen to mine, because my conscience usually perceives danger before I do; it’s sort of a warning signal. Those times that I’ve ignored my conscience, hoo-boy, have I gotten into a boatload of trouble.

I am thankful for the simplicity in my life, a conscious decision I made several years ago. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that life really isn’t that complicated unless you make it so. These days I make a daily effort to reel in what is simple and plain to the eye because that is the soul of a life worth living.

In closing I leave you with this — many years ago I read a quote by Maya Angelou. In paraphrasing she said ‘you may not always remember what someone did, you may not always remember what someone said, but you will never forget how someone made you feel.’

reasons-pumpkin

Wishing all of you a safe and grateful Thanksgiving.

Until next time,

Jeffree Wyn

Hitting It Big, Giving It Back

Who doesn’t harbor a secret fantasy of winning the lottery? It’s not uncommon for people to dream what they would do with the money should they hit the ‘big one’. A new car, a new house, travel, maybe a small tropical island. Anything is possible depending on the amount of the win.

HIB Win Photo

Back in late 2012 when Mark and Cindy Hill of Dearborn, Missouri won half of an astounding $587 million Powerball payout (netted to $136.5 million after taxes) they were simultaneously shocked and ecstatic. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

When asked at a press conference held at the high school where they met how they planned to spend the money, Mark, a mechanic, said he was thinking about buying a red Camaro. Not a Jag, not a Lamborghini, a Camaro. That gives you an idea what kind of humble people the Hills are. Ultimately Mark bought a pickup truck.

HIB Messsage on FBCindy, a laid-off office manager had been looking for work. They had already adopted a little girl from China and with the influx of money were thinking of adopting another. They also planned to help family members, by paying for their four granddaughters, nieces and nephews college educations. Their other big plan was to take their little daughter to the beach because she had never seen one.

Not much has changed for the couple, except that Cindy gave up her job search and Mark retired. He still meets friends for coffee every morning at a local convenience store and they still live in the same home and keep up with all their usual activities. No fancy cars, no tropical island, no exotic cruises to places they can’t pronounce. Instead they have slowly begun using their windfall to give back by funding civic projects in their local community, as well as in Mark’s home town, Camden Point, Missouri, a small settlement of less than 500 residents.

HIB Dearborn signSo far they’ve donated a scholarship fund to nearby North Platte High School in Dearborn, where both graduated, paid for a new ball field for children, safely built far from the dangers of traffic, and donated $50,000 towards the sewage treatment plant.

Who uses their lottery winnings to fund a sewage treatment plant? Good people with their priorities in the right place, that’s who. The new sewage treatment plant will allow residents to remove their personal septic tanks. Ever had to deal with a personal septic tank? You know this is a biggie.

HIB Fire StationAnd then there’s the fire station they funded in Camden Point, a gesture to thank local firefighters for twice saving the life of Mark’s father. Mark took a vested interest in the new fire station by working with architects, contractors, and members of the local volunteer fire department to make sure they got everything just right.

The new station, built to be larger than needed so it could meet demands as the community grows in the decades to come will be dedicated mid-July. It’s built from reinforced concrete to make sure it lasts for generations. In local reports city officials estimate that these projects would have taken around 25 years to complete had the city needed to rely on its existing tax base.

Often big money, like a lottery win, changes people. It’s gratifying to hear of a case where it didn’t, where people stuck to their values. At the press conference that announced their huge windfall, Cindy Hill explained their plans in the humblest way she knew how. “For some reason (God) put it in our hands,” she said, “I think to make sure it goes to the right things.”

If it were up to Mark, he would have kept the fire station a secret. He told a local news station, “If my wife and I could have built this without anybody knowing, that’s exactly what we would have done.” He doesn’t want people making a big deal over the gift because it’s simply their way of giving back to their neighbors, to their community.

Now if these folks aren’t the epitome of The Goodness Principle, I don’t know what is.

 

Creating Horse Whisperers

VR Small girl and horseHorses: What majestic, elegant creatures of beauty and grace. And in thundering herds, what power and strength. To be able to communicate with a horse eye-to-eye and with a whisper, using only slight movements to direct motion, demonstrates a gift of true mutual trust. Now, imagine being a child who has had more than their share of problems or hardships, looking up at a large horse and being able develop that relationship and mastery. Talk about a confidence builder!

Okay—a Horse Whisperer is technically “a horse trainer who adopts a sympathetic view of the motives, needs, and desires of the horse, based on modern equine psychology”. It takes years of experience to attain that level of expertise, and we all know that is beyond the scope of a young child. Perhaps the terms “friend, buddy or pal” are more appropriate. In any event, learning to bond with a horse comes with lasting life lessons.

There is a place where kids are experiencing that important outcome: Victory Ranch, Inc. in San Jose, California works with kids 8 to 16 years old to help them grow and develop life skills. These are neglected or abused kids, some suffering from depression or addiction, perhaps from broken homes or live in foster care. Some are kids who could use a helping hand and some positive goodness to keep them out of the juvenile justice system. In general, the emphasis is working with disadvantaged, under-served, at-risk, neglected, abused, and low-income youth, that include foster, adopted, and siblings of kids with life-threatening illnesses. Oh, did I mention—there’s no charge for the kids participating in the program?

VR Doug instructing with horseDoug Hutten founded Victory Ranch, Inc. in 2006. He started riding horses at age 6, and his adult equestrian experience spans over forty years which includes avid trail riding, competing, stable management, training, volunteering with special needs organizations, writing for Western Horseman Magazine, working with various equestrian Search & Rescue Teams in two states, organizing and managing a PRCA-sanctioned event, and Charity-Celebrity Trail Rides. In other words, he knows his way around horses.

VR Grooming

He has been involved numerous Horseman Associations and charitable organizations for a long time, giving back to those who need assistance. When he witnessed the great number of troubled kids in the Bay Area, he put his knowledge of horses into focus, and knew he could put the two together to create positive behavior changes. Doug realized that kids talk to dogs; if he could get them to feel safe and open up by talking with horses, only good would come of it. He was right.

One success story is Nick Campbell, now 20 and a student at UC Davis. He was just going into high school in 2009 with a lot of extracurricular time on his hands when he entered the program. “My main job was to help muck out the stalls, groom the horses (and bathe them when the weather permitted), exercise them and keep them in practice with Doug’s style of horse training. It’s very important to be constantly making sure that they know their roles and how to behave on the ground, as well as while being ridden.”

The Kids & Horses Education Program (KHEP) is a 5-week after-school and weekend education program which creates positive behavioral changes in almost every child enrolled. Participants engage in tasks with horses that are fun and facilitate communication and teamwork. The horses themselves encourage cooperation and creative thinking, and are capable, sentient mental health team members providing non-judgmental feedback to the kids.

The staff members are certified in utilizing horses in therapy, and when a child needs special help, the Ranch also offers Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) utilizing qualified mental health/clinical professionals. The kids are continually monitored by staff who employ program evaluation, questionnaires, and applied observational field research to help measure their progress.

VR kids muckingDoes it work? Oh, yeah, and very well. Kids learn that they can influence something larger than themselves in a positive way, making them feel better about themselves. The conclusions validate that the goals of the KHEP Program (improved life skills – self-confidence, team work, social skills, personal achievement, focus/follow directions, communication skills, and knowledge of horses) are improved/achieved in the majority of students.

As Nick says, “I became a much harder worker because of VR, and a lot better at time management.”

And when a child graduates from the program with a certificate, they are designated “Buckaroos” (467 total graduates to date) and are invited to return to help mentor the younger first-time participants in future sessions. Not only is it fun to help out, but the positive messages are reinforced while developing leadership skills.

Returning as a Buckaroo, Nick recounts, “During the programs for the foster children, my job was to support Doug and Pat as a kind of teaching aide. I had gone through the program as an observer, so I knew the structure. I helped teach the skills the program tries to impart to the kids, and made sure that everyone was kept in the group. The kids were not allowed to be with the horses by themselves, a volunteer or leader had to be with them at all times, especially when they got to be on the horses.”

What’s next for Victory Ranch? With as many children in the Bay Area who really need the kind of positive help the Ranch provides, the natural course is to increase the number of sessions to accommodate as many as they can. They also want to start a program for the Horsemanship Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts and Venturers. And then there’s the planned expansion into the critical need of serving returning Veterans suffering PTSD. By mirroring the efforts and success they’ve had with the children, translating the horse therapy to the Veterans is sure to have a profound effect.

VR Doug instructing with harness

Would Nick Campbell recommend Victory Ranch to parents of deserving kids? “Definitely, seeing the way that shy, reserved kids start the program and end up with friends and skills that allow them to be social is amazing. A lot of the kids can’t work in group because of shyness or anxiety in the beginning, but they really open up through working with the horses and with other kids in their situations.”

VR Group ShotOf course operating as a non-profit, funding the Victory Ranch programs has always been challenging. Fortunately several foundations and corporate sponsors of note have seen the benefits their support has made (see the website for their list). An endeavor that includes 23 staff and board members (mostly volunteers), the need is constant to make sure that there are enough funds available to feed the horses, pay the rent and provide the free service they do so well. And to ‘take it to the next level’ with additional services, fundraising activities takes a bit of their time and attention. You can learn more about Victory Ranch by visiting the website. If you can help the Buckeroos in any way, I’m sure they would appreciate your interest.

By the way, although they call the graduates “Buckaroos” I prefer the term “Horse Whisperers”. It better demonstrates the magic that happens at Victory Ranch.

 

A Home of Her Own

Diana, Proudly making her own way

Dreams come in all forms. Some people want a puppy, others want a carefree life, a good job, to be thin and never gain weight, or maybe riches and fame. Other people merely want a home to call their own, a happy ending.
A young woman named Diana got a bad break in life, a seriously bad break. She fell from a bed when she was a newborn and suffered a brain seizure as a result of the fall. That started a cascade of problems. These days Diana suffers from short term memory loss, which means she requires constant, albeit patient, prompts and suffers from mild retardation. Not a pretty word, but that is her life.
Diana is 28 years old. Not really that old, but old in suffering, old in how society turns a blind eye to someone who doesn’t fit the mold. She fell through the cracks and until a few years ago no one really took the time to see a person that needed help.
Five years ago she lived with her grandparents, her father and uncles. She didn’t have a job, had no income and felt she was a burden on her family. She wore the same clothes for years on end, because she lacked the funds to buy herself new ones. Then her fortunes changed. She was referred by the San Diego Regional Center to Toward Maximum Independence, Inc. (TMI) an agency that provides assistance and support to children and adults with disabilities. She was assigned to Keltoum, an Independent Living Case Manager. From their first meeting Keltoum jumped into action, assisting Diana in applying for health insurance, food stamps and social security benefits. Within a month she received her health insurance coverage and food stamps. Social Security proved more difficult; they denied her benefits. TMI kept applying and Social Security kept denying her. Finally in 2014 TMI appealed the SS decision and she was granted her benefits.
Diana was elated. Recalling that day she said, “I felt independent, free, I would have my own money, health benefits and I could support myself. I didn’t feel that I would be a burden on my family members.”
TMI helped her to save money so she could move into her own place. That wasn’t so easy. Due to her limited income and the high cost of housing in San Diego she couldn’t afford to rent an apartment. Diana didn’t want to continue feeling like a burden though so started paying rent to her grandparents and contributing to the grocery budget. Then in September of 2015 the family situation soured and despite her best efforts she no longer felt welcome in her grandparents’ home. Her problems at home started affecting her work performance (she had gotten a job at Goodwill) making her emotionally unstable. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse TMI found her a roommate situation and in October 2015 she moved into her new home. Now we’re getting close to that happy ending; her story doesn’t end there however. Diana explains:
“The area where I moved to was new to me and I was not familiar with their buses. My Case Manager worked with me tirelessly, and trained me on the bus route, weekdays, weekends, late at night, until I felt comfortable taking the bus to and from work on my own.”
She says that her goal now is to move in to her own apartment. She’s pretty excited about that. TMI found her an apartment in a new development that will be ready by April 2016. Soon, very soon, Diana will be living on her own for the first time in her life. Her journey to independence has almost reached its end; however she realizes that she could never have come this far by herself.
“I don’t know where I would be without TMI. When I felt alone and desperate the most, they were there to tell me that I am okay and that I am not alone.” Diana says that they changed her life; they gave her hope, independence, and made her dreams come true. That’s all anyone can hope for. Cheers to Diana for keeping her dream alive and living it!

To learn more about TMI at their website, click here; and on Face Book, click here.