The new Goodness Village "tiny home" community in Livermore is making strides to mitigate homelessness in the Tri-Valley by offering safe and affordable living spaces to previously unhoused residents.
"I'm very thankful for this place," said John Clarkin, who has been a resident at the village for about a month after being unhoused for five years.
Clarkin said that the beginning of the pandemic was especially challenging for him and others in the homeless community because many of the public facilities they relied on were closed.
"Where do you think you're going to use the bathroom? Nobody's going to let you go in nowhere," Clarkin said. "The library was shut down and there was just nowhere to go, so then that just gets you harassed by law enforcement even more."
As residents at Goodness Village, Clarkin and his neighbors each now have their own amenities, including restrooms, showers, a kitchenette, central air and heat.
Goodness Village is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that exists on Crosswinds Church land. The vision for the program was sparked by Crosswinds Pastor Chris Coli's visit to the Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, which served as the model for the project in Livermore.
In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Goodness Village was founded as a permanent housing program and the development was supported and brought to fruition in a collaborative effort by local faith-based groups, businesses, the city of Livermore, Alameda County, educational institutions and other community partners.
Although the development is situated on the church's land, which is located at 1660 Freisman Road next to the Tri-Valley Golf Center, Executive Director Kim Curtis said that Goodness Village has no religious affiliation and it is not expected or required for participants to attend Crosswinds or any other religious organization.
"We're not bringing people here to make sure that they go to church. If they have a different faith, we'll help them get to their faith. If they have no faith, that's cool. But we don't bring it up unless they bring it up," Curtis said.
Goodness Village also does not require sobriety as a condition to live there. Curtis said that they strive to create an environment where participants do not feel shame or guilt. "We really try to let people come in as they are but many of them come in with a goal to eventually decrease or become sober," Curtis said.
"It also takes away the sense of secrecy," added staff member Alysia Michaud. "If you're in a program where you have to remain sober you're not going to go into the office and seek help, you're going to hide some of your drug use, whereas now if someone relapses and they're actively under the influence, they know that they can come into the office to talk about how they're feeling, talk about how they need follow up the next day and we can make sure they're safe."
The community consists of 28 single-occupancy tiny homes. Most of the units are eight feet by 20 feet and 13-1/2 feet high, for a total of 160 square feet. Eight of the homes are slightly larger and feature ramps to accommodate accessibility standards.
Former Alameda County supervisor Scott Haggerty, who represented District 1 which includes Livermore, was instrumental in securing funding for Goodness Village prior to his retirement. With the push from Haggerty, the county invested $3 million into the development's infrastructure.
Haggerty told the Weekly that being a supervisor for District 1 can be challenging because it takes a lot of convincing to get funding for social services in the Tri-Valley.
"Our colleagues never believe that there's any need in either the Tri-Valley or in the Tri-Cities," Haggerty said. "When we're seeking solutions in relation to health care issues or homelessness or social services, we're usually the lowest on the pecking order."
Haggerty lauded Goodness Village as "one of the most rewarding projects that I had worked on" and he said it was "extremely emotional" for him to cut the ribbon on opening day.
"It's really important for me that even though we don't get a tremendous amount of help because people don't think we have the need -- which is absolutely ridiculous -- we have to continue to find ways such as this to fend for ourselves when it comes to health care and social services here in the Tri-Valley," he said.
The county funds were delivered in three installments that bridged the transition of power from Haggerty to his successor, Supervisor David Haubert, with the first check arriving to the city of Livermore -- which is the fiduciary agent for the funding -- on Aug. 19, 2020 for $1 million. The second installment of $750,000 was delivered to the city from the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 21, 2020 and the remaining $1.25 million was administered by Haubert in March of this year.
The construction of the homes was led by HomeAid Northern California, FIRM Foundation Community Housing, Wood Rodgers, Trumark Homes and Teichert Construction, along with work and contributions from other partners, namely Tennyson Electric, McCall Landscaping, Coastal Lumber, WC Maloney, R&B, RC Readymix, Mag Trucking and KTGY Group. In support of the Goodness Village mission, the construction partners offered their services at discounted rates and donated many of the materials, which helped stretch the project funding further.
The local community also came together in support of Goodness Village by donating bikes for the residents, contributing artwork and volunteering their time to help decorate and prepare units for the first set of participants to move in.
Goodness Village officially opened on May 21 and as of the end of August, 19 of the 28 units have been occupied. All of the current residents were referred by an outpatient case manager or liaisons from organizations like CityServe of the Tri-Valley, Tri-Valley Seek & Save and First Presbyterian Church.
Clarkin told the Weekly that when the places he usually went during the day were closed to the public, like the library or Starbucks, he started going to the resource center at First Presbyterian Church of Hayward, which is where he learned about Goodness Village and decided to apply.
Another participant, Carol Romero, shared a similar experience. She learned about Goodness Village while she was staying at South Hayward Parish shelter and after the death of her husband. She said that the moment she took her first tour, Goodness Village felt like home.
"I've been (in the Bay Area) for 60 years and this is the most secure home feeling I've had," Romero said, adding that since living at Goodness Village, she's also reconnected with her children and grandchildren.
While the majority of the Goodness Village residents are from the Tri-Valley, Clarkin and Romero are among a handful of participants from other East Bay communities, according to Curtis.
In addition to having their own safe place to call home, some of the things participants said they like about Goodness Village include the nonjudgmental environment that the staff facilitates, the community activities like outdoor movie nights and fitness classes, and the camaraderie they share with their neighbors.
Curtis said that a vocational program is a component of the Goodness Village vision that they plan to develop more fully over time, but they currently do not have the budget as nearly all of the project funding went toward building the homes. However, many of the residents earn money toward their rent by helping with the upkeep of the community, including some light landscaping and helping clean and sanitize units before new participants move in.
"They get their rent at 24 hours a month at the rate of $15 an hour, and we just subtract that down through the month," Curtis said, adding that their program is unique because as their own landlords, they have more flexibility to design their program their own way.
In addition to a more robust vocational program and resources for more direct services for participants, Curtis said that Goodness Village is also seeking funding to build a community pavilion and laundry facilities. Currently, they have one washer-and-dryer set that they are using for everyone and their community space is a common area they refer to as "the yellow house," which is shared with staff.
Haggerty, who has moved to Tennessee since retiring, said he is still supporting the fundraising efforts for Goodness Village and connecting them with potential funding sources and donors.
"Any time that I can help with the homeless population or other issues that will help District 1, I'm more than happy to do that. You can take the boy out of District 1, but you can't take District 1 out of the boy," he said.
For more information about Goodness Village, visit gvlivermore.org.