Tiny Home village gets $12K donation from Nonbelief Relief by PJ Slinger

By PJ Slinger

A former dilapidated mechanic shop and used-car store lot in Madison, Wis., has been transformed into a successful small village where former homeless people are now living in what are called Tiny Homes.

These homes, each less than 100 square feet, are built, maintained and paid for by volunteers and donors to Occupy Madison, Inc., a nonprofit organization.

Nonbelief Relief, under the umbrella of FFRF, has donated $12,000 to Occupy Madison Village for what, in essence, amounts to two additional Tiny Homes. Nonbelief Relief was incorporated in 2015, with FFRF as its sole member.

Each Tiny Home includes a kitchenette, small table, closet and storage loft, water storage system, heat, insulation and a bed.

The land, at 304 N. Third St., was purchased in May 2014 by Occupy Madison.

“We wanted to become a member of the neighborhood, not just come in and stake a claim to a piece of property,” said Luca Clemente, Occupy Madison’s vice president.

As with Habitat for Humanity, sweat equity is used to determine a person’s ability to move into one of the homes. A person earns the right to live in one of the Tiny Homes after putting in 500 hours of work.

Since the residents who live in the homes are not actually the owners, they are referred to as stewards. Gene Cox is one of OM Village’s success stories. Has been a steward since February 2015, but got involved in OM Village well before that.

“I just started coming out here to help,” he said. “I was just living in a van, so I wanted to get out and do something.”

Perhaps most importantly, with the stability that living in a home offers, Cox was able to get a job.

Cox said he definitely feels a sense of belonging, something that’s impossible when you live in a vehicle.
“I like my neighbors. It’s starting to feel like family,” he said.

There is no time limit to how long a steward may stay in a given house.

“The assumption is that eventually they will become independent and will want to move on,” Clemente said. “But we didn’t want to set it up where once people had success, they were then thrown back out on the streets.”

The next phase for the village is to construct a community kitchen and laundry area on the backside of the existing building where the wood shop and bathroom are.

The success of the Occupy Madison Village was surprising to some and has become a model for other cities to follow.

“There were no solutions to the problem of homelessness,” Clemente said. “There was no place for these people to go. There is a severe lack of services. So we proposed our own solution. Then we were getting national and international attention in the media, and it seemed like everyone was watching. We’re kind of a tourist attraction.”

Nonbelief Relief is a humanitarian agency for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and their supporters “to improve this world, our only world,” said Nonbelief Relief Administrator Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Freedom From Religion Foundation