“Tiny home” villages are going up around the United States. They’re touted as solutions for homeless men and women, but a Sept. 17 Los Angeles Times article had this headline about two California villages: “The report card is mixed.” Steve Lopez reported, “Some residents have been kicked out for rules violations. Some have chosen to leave. Some have received addiction and mental-health counseling, while others have not.”
Lopez quoted “homelessness liaison” Jane Demian about one resident who had just had a psychotic breakdown: “He has a history of schizophrenia, and he’s been on the streets a long time, and rather than connect him with mental-health services — which might not be available right now — they put him into a tiny home …. He did not do well because he needs a higher level of care.”
Tiny home villages by themselves don’t work because their developers often mistake a symptom for a disease. The symptom is homelessness. Homelessness is hard on bodies but also on heads. Some people who are mentally ill become homeless. Others become mentally ill after years on the streets. Whatever the cause, people with mental illness need more than a tiny house. They need the involvement of people who care.
Last month I interviewed four residents of Eden Village, a community of tiny homes in Springfield, Missouri. Residents include people like Stephanie Creighton, 47, who lived on the streets for nine years, hearing voices. She has a complex diagnosis: “bipolar and depressive, with schizophrenic tendencies.” That was too much for her mother and a sister, who lived close to where Creighton was sleeping rough, but she had “burned bridges” with all of them, and friends as well. Her brother is “in prison and has been most of my life.”
Addicted for most of her life, Creighton spent those nine years with Daniel, now her husband: “There was always two of us… we made each other feel safer…. we’d find a patch of woods and camp there.” It was cold in winter — “We had our tents collapse on us cuz of snow” — but they did not go hungry: The Salvation Army “served lunch and then churches would serve dinner.” It seems that she consumed material food but not much spiritual food.
Finally God used Creighton’s second drug arrest to “make me stop and think if I don’t get off of it, I’m gonna end up killing myself.” She stuck to a no-more-drugs resolution, “except for two hiccups.” She credits her perseverance to “God, her husband, and the Eden Village community,” which she and Daniel joined three years ago. When she is depressed and withdraws, neighbors “come to your house and be like, what’s wrong? They draw you back out …. I have a best friend that I got here at the village and she comes to my rescue.”
Regularity is important: “Daniel does heating and duct work. I get up at 5:30 in the morning cuz my husband gets up and goes to work. When he leaves, I usually get up and clean my house.” Medication is important: “I’m supposed to take them every day, but sometimes I forget. Daniel will remind me, my bestie she’ll remind me, and so okay. Finally, the other day I actually set an alarm for it.” She’s trying to be disciplined in other ways as well: “We need to make a budget and stuff like that, and follow it. We’re still taking baby steps. It’s been so long since we done anything like this. It’s hard to get back in the swing of things.”
With Creighton as with others, it may be that mental illness doesn’t go away, but at Eden Village it does not rule her. She has three children — ages 25 to 30 — and says their childhood was “terrible …. They seen me for what I was, but now that they’re older, they love me…. I have said my apologies.” And she remembers her best day: “Me and my husband got married here at Eden Village. April 4th, 2020. It was great. I took on my favorite person’s last name. His family got us a hotel room and it was nice. The bed was amazing. It had a pillow top on it, real fluffy. You just sank in it …. We just snoozed the whole time.”