Times-Call – By Karen Antonacci
Correction: United Church of Christ is proposing to put the Micah homes on .25 acre, not .75 acre as was originally reported.
Colorado community leaders gathered Thursday night in the Heart of Longmont church’s fellowship hall to talk about solutions to area homelessness.
Very soon, homeless people themselves will fill the room to sleep on cold nights, church representative Catherine Murphy told the gathered audience of about 40 people.
Carol Matheis-Kraft, who is with the United Church of Christ, and Inn Between Executive Director David Bitler started off the event by proposing a tiny-homes initiative.
Matheis-Kraft said that the United Church of Christ had a spare .25 acre that they would like to use for six small units at about 500 square feet each.
The project is called the Micah Project and the homes would be Micah homes, after the Book of Micah in the Bible in which Micah defends the rights of the poor, according to an Inn Between information sheet.
The six units would go to single people or couples who are below 30 percent of the Boulder County area median income, Bitler said. That would be below $19,920 per year for one person or below $22,770 per year for two people in 2016.
“The idea is that people with a very low income … can move in and live there for the rest of their lives,” Bitler said. “We’re committed to helping people find homes. Everyone needs a home.”
The residents of the six Micah homes will pay one-third of their income to rent and nonprofit partners will subsidize the rest, Bitler said.
Matheis-Kraft said that the project is still in the planning stages because the property needs to be rezoned for multiple dwelling units. They have set up a neighborhood meeting in two weeks and after that will be working through the Longmont planning and development process.
The call for individual leadership and action continued throughout the rest of the event.
Murphy said Thursday’s symposium served as the Heart of Longmont church inaugural event in the Longmont Close to Home initiative. Close to Home is a public will-building and awareness campaign out of Denver.
Leanne Wheeler, an Air Force veteran who was formerly homeless for a period of time and now is on the board of the Metro Denver Homelessness Initiative, said the initiative is about empowering people to take steps toward reducing homelessness in all the aspects of their lives.
Wheeler told the audience that everyone can do something.
“As soon as you ask the question, ‘Why doesn’t somebody?’ It’s for you to do. It’s a matter of who else is asking themselves that question,” Wheeler said.
The group then broke into small roundtable discussions. Michele Waite, with Longmont senior services, led one about non-traditional housing models.
Deborah Simmons said she has taken in four people to her Longmont home over the years while they secured jobs and homes, adding it has been a good experience.
“We have a lower level so they can have their privacy and we can have ours,” Simmons said. “And they have a microwave and a refrigerator there and if they need to come up and use my stove to cook they can. We cook together and they have really become part of our family.”
HOPE Executive Director Lisa Searchinger asked if there were case managers available for homeless people, would residents be more willing to take them into their spare bedrooms and mother-in-law suites? The group — made up of residents and nonprofit representatives — nodded.
Stacia Keller, with Faith Community Lutheran Church, said safety is a big concern for church officials that want to ask congregants to take in someone.
“There are people that are coming to us and asking for housing but safety is what stops us. Because the recommendation (to congregants) would come from us, people they trust,” Keller said. “So we end up sending them to the Bar-L (Motel) and it’s expensive.”
The group also brainstormed some sort of matchmaking service where case managers for homeless people could help figure out which host would be a good match for which person.
Bitler added that there could be someone doing background checks on the homeless people and talking through any criminal history that someone might have on a case-by-case basis.
David Schlaack chimed in from the edge of the conversation and shared his story. He’s a veteran and has lived in Longmont since 1978, working in grocery stores in the area.
His landlord raised the rent on the house he had lived in for 15 years, so now he and his therapy Chihuahua, Marley, live in his mobile home.
“You know, I had to take a bath in a bucket just to come in here because you can’t hook up water to an RV in the winter,” Schlaack said. “But the two things I do always have are a smile and a laugh because they’re contagious.”