WILMINGTON — This week four tiny structures made their way from Pennsylvania to join 17 others just like them on a growing community lot in Wilmington. The modular units are the latest addition to Eden Village, a 31-home neighborhood providing residences for chronically homeless individuals.
Ten more are needed to complete phase one, which has been underway since January 2021. With the project slated to wrap next month, the nonprofit, founded in 2020, is already looking at phases two and three as part of its long-term plan.
With two more phases planned, it could relieve nearly 100 unsheltered people from living on the streets.
The residences are open to individuals who have been homeless for more than a year and have a mental or physical disability. Renters are locked in at a $300 per month rate for the entirety of their stay, which has no end date. The cost covers utilities as well.
While Eden Village already has a waiting list of future residents, a move-in date for phase one has not been solidified. Director Shawn Hayes anticipates early 2023.
The founders of Eden Village include Dr. Tom Dalton, an anesthesiologist for New Hanover Regional Medical Center, and his wife, Kim, along with a group of 30 “close interested friends,” Dalton says. They are addressing the growing homeless population by providing shelter yet also as a way to be proactive in treating healthcare needs.
“People with chronic conditions have a very difficult time healing,” Dalton told PCD in 2021. “So you take blood pressure and diabetes and basic surgery, and then send folks out in a tent or out on the street to heal – they just come back.”
The average unsheltered individual is expected to live to age 50; 20 years less than the housed populations’ life expectancy, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
The Cape Fear Continuum of Care tracks the homeless population in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties year over year by conducting a survey. Currently, there are roughly 350 homeless individuals — 92 are considered chronically homeless. The number has increased from 300 in 2021, 51 of whom were considered chronically homeless.
According to Good Shepherd executive director Katrina Knight, total counts of the unsheltered population decreased significantly from 2010 until 2013, then have remained relatively consistent.
Phase one is located at 1302 Kornegay Avenue, purchased in May 2020. The city appropriated $250,000 to fund the first village’s infrastructure. The money came from the sale of Optimist Park to the North Carolina State Ports Authority and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in April 2021. Council allocated an additional $40,000 toward Eden Village’s efforts in June.
A $250,000 grant from the recently announced New Hanover Community Endowment recipients will go toward Eden’s operational needs, including bills and construction costs.
Hayes noted the nonprofit could set up communities all across the city if the land was available.
“A lot of people talk about downtown because it’s the most visible, especially to outsiders,” he said. “But this is a citywide issue, and we’ll continue to look under every nook and cranny for folks falling through the cracks.”
Hayes said Dalton has been “beating down doors” searching to secure another plot of land for future phases.
“He is a beast,” Hayes said of Dalton’s dedication.
The goal is to find a 3- to 4-acre property near the current neighborhood. Infrastructure will be needed first before concrete pads can be laid down. The work would begin in late 2023.
Internal emails obtained by Port City Daily in May show the search has been underway for quite some time.
“We are tracking 70 individuals who are chronically homeless in Wilmington and will need to begin thinking about our next village,” Dalton wrote to Wilmington deputy city manager Thom Moton in May.
Then, the nonprofit was looking to raise $800,000 seven months ago to complete phase one, Dalton told PCD. Hayes confirmed it has now been received from a combination of resources, donations and sponsorships.
It took a little over $5 million in total to complete, with a chunk of funds coming from one major donor, matching the first 16 homes funded. Aside from the city and county’s contributed funds, the rest was raised through donations.
“We do have some grants but we don’t go after all of them simply because there’s a lot of strings attached to some of that money,” Hayes said,
It’s the same reason the nonprofit is not participating in the housing voucher program. If it did, rent prices would fluctuate based on income, Hayes explained.
“If their income goes up, that’s better for them,” Hayes said. “They can use that to better themselves.”
The nonprofit speculates it may need a little less than the original $5 million raised for phase one, as it moves to utilize 3D printed walls for building. The move would save money and also aid in the timeline of construction, Hayes said.
“I don’t want to diminish that number because it might take that,” he said. “It’s hard to say in this financial climate. Whatever that cost is, we’ll meet it and continue to build because people continue to need help. That’s our mentality.”
The nonprofit has taken into consideration the rising costs of labor and materials due to inflation since Eden Village began. The initial 17 tiny homes were manufactured in Laurinburg, North Carolina. Hayes said the most recent units, the remaining 14, came from Pennsylvania instead.
“We had to explore all options and found another builder was able to replicate the homes at a lower rate,” he explained.
The move saved upward of six figures, Hayes confirmed. Each home initially cost more than $40,000 to construct. That number rose to $73,000 post-pandemic, but Hayes said he was able to secure homes at roughly $10,000 less when switching companies.
The homes are 400 square feet, set up for a single adult. They’re turn-key ready and consist of one bedroom and one bath, complete with full kitchen appliances.
Eden Village is built debt-free. Hayes explained the nonprofit does not buy homes or move forward with needed infrastructure until money is in hand.
Eden Village is not actively raising money for future phases at this time, but it is building an endowment fund to continue operations and future construction.
“We’re raising to be sure we can operate forever,” Hayes explained.
He estimated it costs about $250,000 to operate annually, since paid staff right now is limited to one individual beside Hayes.
Dalton and his wife do not get paid from Eden Village either. It relies on a cohort of nearly 1,000 volunteers ranging from healthcare professionals, social workers, financial consultants and more, which helps keep costs down.
“Whatever money we raise goes into our program and to help our friends here, not into the pockets of employees,” he said.
However, as the village grows, additional staff will be onboarded. In the meantime Hayes will retain leadership over the day-to-day venture with a community coordinator assisting.
The model, based on The Gathering Tree and Eden Village entity out of Springfield, Missouri — where the Daltons are from — calls for keeping communities to 30 homes max. It will follow the same plan for round two.
“That way it’s reasonable to extenuate [the] community,” Hayes said.
He added it’s easier to get to know 20 or 30 neighbors than upward of 60 or 70 and retain community appeal.
Each phase will include a community center to house a full-community kitchen, dining facility for 50, office space for support services and a 24-hour laundry. Construction broke ground in July for those amenities and is close to completion for the first neighborhood.
Crews are also now pouring the sidewalk within the Eden Village community and are working on a parking lot, as well as an access road for emergency vehicles.
“We want to make sure we have those in place before we bring folks in,” Hayes said.
Most furnishings have been donated by organizations, churches and businesses — such as the Nursing Council at Novant, Marsh Oaks neighborhood, Thomas Construction (also heading up the on-site work) and Wilmington Yoga.
“It’s truly a community solution,” Hayes said. “We’re going to make Wilmington a city where no one sleeps outside.”
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