Jonathan Fisher had lived in the streets for two years when he met Linda Brown, a realtor and volunteer for a drop-in shelter for homeless people.
Aside from having no home of his own, the man was battling substance abuse at the time. But thanks to Linda, Jonathan was able to turn his life around.
Linda, a real estate agent with Amax Real Estate in Springfield, Missouri, took the time to get to know Jonathan. She asked him how he became homeless and encouraged him to rebuild his life. To help him do that, Linda gave him a job.
Now, Jonathan is sober and works full-time for the woman who gave him a second chance.
“In the worst moments of my life, Linda gave me guidance, care, and made me feel like I was still worth something,” he said.
Jonathan helps other people experiencing struggles similar to what he had gone through.
Linda and her husband, David, managed the charitable organization “The Gathering Tree” for around nine years until 2018. They operated at different locations until they were able to lease a storefront, allowing them to turn their efforts into a five-night-a-week drop-in shelter.
The Gathering Tree became a place for the unhoused to eat, shower, do laundry, and socialize. Guests also participated in recreational activities such as bingo and karaoke.
As she heard their stories over the years, the realtor noticed a trend—most of them lost their homes due to a lack of a safety net. Physical and mental disabilities proved to be challenging to handle alone.
Over time, their program’s vision expanded and became a tiny home community called “Eden Village,” which provides permanent housing and support services for the formerly homeless.
The village, which started welcoming residents in August 2018, is where Jonathan works in construction and maintenance.
Eden Village includes a 4,000-square-foot community center where renters can hold cookouts, do their laundry, get access to computers, a library of books and DVDs, and a medical office.
It also features a community garden, woodworking shop, a neighborhood store, outdoor grills, and a storm shelter. Last year, it even became the site of a marriage ceremony of two residents.
The kindhearted realtor was compelled to expand her community’s reach one night while closing up after visiting with 15 homeless people at The Gathering Tree.
“It was a cold, blustery winter night, and I watched as my friends walked off into the darkness to a hidden, wet, cold camp, while we went home to a warm bed,” she said. “I had to do something.”
Linda sought sponsors for the developing community, sharing her vision of making Springfield a “city where no one sleeps outside” with churches and non-profits in the area.
In 2016, she met fellow philanthropist Nate Schleuter, who helped her draw sponsorships from different organizations.
By February 2019, all 31 tiny homes (which cost around $42,000) in Eden Village were occupied.
“It’s exciting to watch the homeless who thought they’d live the rest of their life on the street now have a home,” Nate said.
Linda’s years of experience being a realtor came in handy during the development of the tiny home community. She found a listing for an abandoned 4.2-acre mobile park in the east of Springfield.
The property didn’t have to be rezoned for tiny home trailers, and infrastructure and utilities were already in place. Finding properties that already had the proper zoning helped them accomplish their mission more efficiently.
The tiny homes, which qualify as recreational vehicles, are rolled in on wheels attached to their steel frames. Each home is 400 square feet and fully furnished.
Residents only need to pay $300 per month, including utilities. Most of them receive government disability checks of $725 per month to cover their expenses.
Tenants can stay as long as they need to, but they need to remain a good neighbor in the community to do so.
In light of the pandemic, residents are taking health precautions like everyone else. They wear masks and maintain social distance to help keep everyone safe.
You may visit the Eden Village website to volunteer, donate, or become a resident.