Fix Homelessness How to rebuild human lives

The Columbarium’s Testimony


Columbaria are structures with boxes for the ashes of the cremated: Eleven boxes in the Eden Village columbarium, near the 6W tiny home of Mirenda Barrows (see January 12 column), contain ashes of former residents. Names and birth/death dates suggest typical life spans of addicts and alcoholics: Donnie “Donnie Show” Wagoner, dead at 41. Rhonda “Brooklyn” Bielby, dead at 44. Donnie “Caveman” Helton, dead at 25.

Several current residents told me they want their ashes to go into the columbarium, in recognition of how the Village saved their lives. Gary Boots in 3E shared that sentiment — “This place saved my life. I spent two winters on the street. Third one would have killed me” — but he had a different final physical location in mind: “When I die, I’m gonna send my ashes to all my exes.”   

The words on two of the boxes remind me of what being “all in” on a project means: “Reserved David William Brown MD. Reserved Linda Kay Davis Brown.” They’re the founders of Eden Village. One of the boxes is a reminder of a recent tragedy. Mel “MJ” Woods, 27, killed himself in one of the tiny houses last June, and the smell after several days gave away the sad story. His death hit hard one of the oldest Eden Village residents, Nancy Lawrence, who is 69 and deaf, but a good lip-reader. She became like a mother to Mel, and then he was gone.

One of the boxes puzzled me: Helen Mae, birthdate July 31, 2017, death date July 31, 2017. Then Mirenda Barrows and I talked again. She explained that on July 31, 2017, six months pregnant, a Dodge Ram 2500 hit her. Barrows, on the hood for 100 feet, fell off the front. The truck ran over her and dragged her eleven feet more. Helen Mae, delivered much too early, died.

Once out of the hospital Barrows returned to her mom’s home, but “my mom’s boyfriend creeped on me.” Off-and-on homeless, she moved into her tiny home in October 2019 after Eden Village evicted the previous resident for drug use. Barrows is smart, but repeatedly gets involved with irresponsible men. She left Eden for two months to be with one in Illinois, then came back.

Barrows, baptized four years ago, wryly said, “I’ve been saved many times.” She added, “I believe in God. The Holy Spirit tells me when I’m doing wrong, but a lot of churches pander to the populace or to politicians.” She also believes in the community emphasis of Eden Village: “We are like a family, sometimes dysfunctional. We know each other at our most suckiest point.” The day I left Eden Village she was reading Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

The one resident I never saw, Lenny Drouillard in 10W, had barricaded his porch entrance and posted a sign, “Welcome to Camp Quitcherbitchen// If you are not a happy camper, take a hike. Chill the f— out.” Some other residents stayed to themselves, but no one else posted a notice like that.

Daniel and Stephanie Creighton in 12W said they get along with almost everyone, but have a harder time with Sabrina Resette (previously known as James Moore or Alex Channing) across the way in 11E. During my six days Resette, 67, wore a dress, could have used a shave, and responded to my hellos with mumbled variations on “KGB. Deep state. It’s going down.” Daniel said he had warned Resette, “If you charge at me, I’m treating you like a man.”

Daniel Creighton of Eden Village.

Kelbi Schlueter said about several residents, “I have to pray ‘help me to love them.’” On the afternoon of my last full day in Eden, I passed out slices of a barbecued chicken pizza from the Kum-and-Go gas station/convenience store two blocks away. As Resette walked by, I offered the last piece. Resette sniffed it, asked, “Am I being kicked out?” — I smiled and said no — and took a small bite, then smiled slightly and walked away.

At 10 the next morning I had a ride to Joplin 70 miles away, my next homelessness stop. But at nine I went to the weekly “Coffee with Kelbi” meeting: Schlueter had told me, “Sometimes no one comes, sometimes it’s my sweetest time.” This time five residents showed up, and one said, “I got drunk last night. I’m kicking myself.” Schlueter prayed for her. Nearby was a small plaque: “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Marvin Olasky

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Marvin Olasky is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture. He taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1983 to 2008 and edited WORLD magazine from 1992 through 2021. He is the author of 28 books including Fighting for Liberty and Virtue and The Tragedy of American Compassion.