Prince of Peace Church combats homelessness with tiny home settlement

Churches across Minnesota have begun offering low-cost housing to chronically homeless individuals, supported by new state legislation.
Prince of Peace Church combats homelessness with tiny home settlement
Valerie’s story
Valerie’s house pictured from the front. Her front door is painted a shade of “dignity” blue. (Isabella Kunc)

At 25 years old, Valerie Roy lived in a school bus, relocating to places all around the country in the transportable home she had converted it into. She lived in many states including Florida, Arizona, California and Vermont. “I kept moving and moving and moving,” said Roy. 

Without any family or community, she was also very alone. “It was very isolating. I was very by myself. I was in my car. I [took] the seats out and I put a bed in. So it’s kind of really uncomfortable. It’s really hard on your body,” said Roy. 

In 2018, Minnesota held a homeless population of 7,243 people, including 1,066 cases of chronic homelessness. Chronic homelessness describes individuals who have continuously faced homelessness for over a year while struggling with a disability, such as physical or mental disabilities or substance abuse disorders. In contrast, temporary homelessness describes people facing homelessness for short periods, usually less than a month. The number of individuals suffering from chronic homelessness in the U.S. has been increasing since 2018, especially since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which caused an increase of about 30% in America’s chronically homeless population.

At 42 years old, Roy attended Arizona State University, earning a degree in sustainability and nonprofit management. However, this degree did not help her find career opportunities. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I never got connected. I never got employment other than the same things I was doing before,” said Roy. 

They’ll take care of families first. They’ll take care of children first. They’ll take care of single mothers first. Drug addicts have their own programs. Everybody’s got a special program — not the chronically homeless.

— Valerie Roy

When searching for resources for the homeless, many results appear, but very few results show resources specifically for chronically homeless individuals. Even when explicitly searching for resources for chronic homelessness, the results typically only provide temporary solutions that would best support people dealing with temporary homelessness. “They’ll take care of families first. They’ll take care of children first. They’ll take care of single mothers first. Drug addicts have their own programs. Everybody’s got a special program — not the chronically homeless,” said Roy. 

Roy suffered from chronic homelessness for 11-and-a-half years until she found a connection to Settled, an organization that aims to aid chronically homeless individuals by supporting them with community and resources, such as affordable rent.

Beginning in  July 2022, Roy lived in a school bus parked on church property at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, a Settled partner, until she eventually moved into a tiny home in December 2023. “First I was in the bus, now I’ve sold the bus, and then I was going to go back into my car, but they wouldn’t have it. They said no, and they put me in the tiny house instead,” said Roy. This home provides Roy with permanent housing that she did not have before.

Moving into the tiny home completely changed Roy’s life, giving her hope she had long gone without. Now, she plans to go back to school to get a degree in drug and alcohol counseling. “I’m getting ready probably to go get my master’s degree through vocational rehab,” said Roy. She hopes that going into this specific niche will help her get work that she was unable to find before.

Prince of Peace Church. Many amenities for the residents, including showers and bathrooms, are located inside the church. (Isabella Kunc)
The community-first model

There’s a cheesy saying that goes “Home is where the heart is,” and while it may seem like a simple cliche, research by Dr. Gabrielle Clowdus suggests it may be the key to ending chronic homelessness.

For the past 25 years, the U.S. has taken a “housing first” approach to tackling chronic homelessness. While this model, grounded in the idea that housing should be provided before supportive services, may seem intuitive, it fails to account for arguably the most important aspect of home: loving and supportive friends and family. This neglect is reflected in the growing homeless encampments of Minneapolis and St. Paul and increasing chronic homelessness across the U.S.

Settled, an organization founded by Clowdus, aims to address chronic homelessness with a community-first approach by equipping local churches with resources to construct “sacred settlements” — tiny home villages on church land.

Prince of Peace Church, in partnership with Settled, has built three approximately 200-square-foot tiny home dwellings, each attached to a trailer and fitted with electricity, a kitchenette and a compostable toilet. Each home costs around $35,000 to build, but site grading, electrical wiring and renovations to church common areas add $25,000 to each home’s cost. 

Other amenities, such as showers and toilets, can be found inside the church building, which is always open to residents. “Even though we talk about community, there’s nothing that prevents Valerie from locking herself in her place and not seeing anybody ever. Except she has to come into this building,” said Fred Ogimachi, Settled operations advisor. Having some amenities inside the church encourages residents to interact with others, such as other residents and church members, which reinforces the community aspect.

All residents pay rent, which is $200 per month. “Everybody pays rent. This is not charity. This is dignified living,” said Ogimachi.

You can’t heal when you’re being thrown in bed from six at night till six in the morning, or you’ve got 90 days to get it together. You slip right through the cracks.

— Valerie Roy

A major difference between Prince of Peace’s Sacred Settlement and other homeless housing options is that Sacred Settlement housing is permanent. “You can’t heal when you’re being thrown in bed from six at night till six in the morning, or you’ve got 90 days to get it together. You slip right through the cracks,” said Valerie Roy. 

To reinforce the community-first model, Settled has worked with the state to create legislation that requires 33% to 40% of the homes to be filled with volunteers, or “intentional neighbors.” On the Prince of Peace site, one of the houses is occupied by a church couple and their daughter. “There are two families on the other site that love Valerie. They care about Valerie. And it’s not because it’s their job,” said Ogimachi.

Although there has been some resistance to the sacred settlement from city officials and residents, Roy is glad to have a place to call home. “I go to church every Sunday — and I’m not Christian — because I’m grateful for what these people have done for me,” she said.

Challenges and plans for the future
The latest addition to Prince of Peace’s Sacred Settlement. (Isabella Kunc)

Prior to 2024, “tiny homes” did not have an exclusive definition according to Minnesota state law and were previously identified as RVs. Because of the lack of legal structure for tiny homes in Minnesota, communicating with cities about them remained difficult. Initially, officials in Roseville questioned whether the Prince of Peace settlement upheld the dignity of its residents due to the lack of plumbing inside the tiny homes. 

Fred Ogmimachi recognized that the city’s questioning of the model was justified. “The city isn’t paid to be compassionate. The city is paid to adhere to rules,” he said. 

In 2023, a bi-partisan Minnesota state bill was passed into law addressing the use of tiny homes for homeless housing. Under the law, Sacred Settlements can house homeless people in tiny homes if they provide livable conditions to inhabitants. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, confirmed Prince of Peace’s status as a Sacred Settlement and gave other faith communities the opportunity to adopt the settlement model. 

As part of the provisions, 33–40% of tenants in Sacred Settlements are required to be “intentional neighbors” who support the former homeless members of the community. Additionally, even though tiny homes are not required to have plumbing, they must meet housing code requirements.

Despite the challenges that Sacred Settlements have faced in their development, the model continues to grow. In Maplewood, the Woodland Hills Church is developing its own tiny home settlement, and there is ongoing conversation about integrating the model in Duluth’s interfaith homeless organizations.

While Prince of Peace is a Lutheran church, people from different faiths come together to develop the settlements. “The advocates come from different churches, the supportive friends come from different churches,” said Ogimachi. 

Innovation is another outcome of the development of the sacred settlements. Larry Ball, a former NASA engineer and volunteer for Settled, is currently building a fully compostable toilet as a potential restroom for tiny homes. With the price point for these toilets currently upward of $6,000, the implementation is still out of reach but demonstrates the innovative model of the Sacred Settlements.

In addition to innovation, Settled has goals of wide-scale development of Sacred Settlements. According to Ogimachi, there are around 700,000 homeless people in the USA and 350,000 faith communities, which means if every faith community housed two homeless individuals they would nearly solve the entire problem of homelessness. 

By only taking a few people off the streets and giving them a permanent community to reside in, Sacred Settlements helps the homeless in a way that is realistic for further adoption. Though this vision still needs time to come to fruition, it demonstrates how the actions of individual Sacred Settlements build hope for a future with no homelessness.

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Maya Gjelhaug
Maya Gjelhaug, Print Editor-in-Chief
My name is Maya, and I'm excited to be one of your print Editors-in-Chief this year. When I'm not editing articles, you can find me mountain biking and watching Band of Brothers with my dad. Awards: Best of SNO - Mounds View Theater casting sparks controversy Best of SNO - The downfall of ELA education Best of SNO - Pro-life activists rally against Minnesota abortion legislation Best of SNO - Prince of Peace Church combats homelessness with tiny home settlement Best of SNO - Should legacy admissions still exist? 2nd-Place Gold Medallion Spread - Youth sports culture SNO Site Excellence Design Award SNO Page Excellence Award
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Sinim is a junior staff reporter, and this year is her first year on The Viewer. Awards: Best of SNO - Prince of Peace Church combats homelessness with tiny home settlement
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Vincent Meyer, Staff Reporter
Vincent is a junior staff reporter, and this year is his first year on The Viewer. Awards: Best of SNO - The downfall of ELA education Best of SNO - Prince of Peace Church combats homelessness with tiny home settlement
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Isabella Kunc, Features Editor and Spread Editor
Hi! I am Isabella, Spread and Features editor for the 2023-24 school year. Journalism 1 and 2 were so fun last year that I decided to stay on staff as an editor. While reading and writing are my favorite pastimes, I also enjoy debating, running, singing, learning new languages, and hanging out in Theater. I hope you pick up the next Viewer issue and learn something new! Awards:  Best of SNO - Our community's car dependency
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