Genesis House built eight houses—termed “tiny houses”—meant to shelter homeless families and prepare them for their lives off the streets.
The organization started building these houses as part of a long-term initiative called “Jumpstart” that focuses on long-term solutions endemic to impoverished individuals. Genesis House began as a day shelter for the homeless in the Siloam Springs area over 10 years ago. Typically, the organization operated as a crisis shelter, offering motel and gas vouchers or rent assistance to those in need.
Lisa Burch, caseworker for Genesis House, said these houses will provide interim lodging for homeless families. “There are so many people in this community struggling with homelessness. The housing that the tiny houses will provide roughly a ninety-day transition into what we hope will be a permanent place for them.” Burch said.
Frank Huebert, director of SMLT, helped with a previous Genesis House project, a precursor to the tiny homes, “Two winters ago, our church, along with a number of other churches in the community, helped put together an overnight shelter project for families who were participating in a reestablishing program.”
Huebert’s church hosted three families for weekends over the course of three months. The project was meant to give families some room to focus on gathering the resources for housing, including money for deposits, rent, and utilities.
These houses are a visual representation of change for Genesis House, but the organization has been shifting its focus for the past three years. While they still intend to address the symptoms of homeless life, (the daily problems of food, clothing and hygiene), Genesis House has been moving to address cyclical poverty on a smaller, more effective basis.
The transition is not a recent one, but Harvey McCone, executive director of Genesis House, said the tiny houses are a significant step forward. “This is just one component of what we do with houses. It’s not the end-all-be-all of what we do with housing,” McCone said.
Burch said the program focuses on relationships, “The Jumpstart program has allowed us to partner with the family over the course of three months. They come in every single week, which builds relationships and we’re able to work on life skills, not just helping you pay your rent but seeing what we can do to help you pay your rent at the end of this.”
Homelessness is a bigger problem in Siloam than it may seem. This June, there were 16 adults, 23 children, and 12 families without shelter. Altogether, there were 1,167 people registering as homeless for the first time since January. The Corridor, the group of cities along Interstate 49, has a large homeless population. There are shelters and advocates in Northwest Arkansas that are attempting to deal with homelessness. “Those issues that are in the Corridor, we’re on that radar. They know that there are some good things happening here, so we’re attracting attention from agencies and from people in need.” Burch said.
“Families are willing to move over here because there are jobs here, so a few fall into our lap. It’s kind of a mixed blessing because, yes, we have more people coming in who we’re able to help, but we’re limited by the funds and the time we have by the case management,” McCone said.
Throughout the immense task of managing and addressing a problem that has afflicted the modern world for ages, Genesis House is doing what it can to keep the humanity of its patrons in mind. “It’s starting out respecting that these folks have values and have ideas of what their lives need to be like. So instead of me sitting down and telling them what their lives need to be like, it’s establishing values to meet the standards they want for their lives,” Burch said.