In May of 2021, The Welcome Church in Philadelphia was awarded an Innovation Grant from the Synod of the Trinity. The funds went to support Sanctuary Village, a partnership of The Welcome Church that is a small, self-governing village of Tiny Houses to serve as transitional housing for chronically homeless individuals who due to age and/or pre-existing health conditions are most vulnerable to Coronavirus (COVID-19) infections/complications. Such a community, the application said, would offer people the security and stability to obtain needed services for a better quality of life and a move to permanent housing. (For more on the Synod’s granting opportunities, click here.)
The Welcome Church is a congregation under development of the ELCA and community ministry of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Rev. Schaunel Steinnagel is an associate pastor at The Welcome Church and provided a 12-month update on this ministry.
The Sanctuary Village board remains very committed to the project, even as adjustments in timeline and budget have had to occur over the year, due to forces outside of our control. We are at the stage of waiting for the scheduling of a hearing, in application for a zoning variance. Within the next year, we plan to have built the first Tiny House community in Philadelphia for people experiencing homelessness, including the site prep, rehab of the existing community building and installation of the houses, with an expectation that people can move in by fall 2023. A pilot program for Philadelphia, we hope to eventually see the Tiny House community replicated, as part of fighting homelessness.
A foremost way that this project is living out the ends of the Synod is through “relationships,” with both the presbytery and a number of its congregations. The Synod has definitely given our efforts substantive grounding. Both through financial and other means, the presbytery is an important supporter of Sanctuary Village. The presbytery chose to support this vision of Tiny Houses as a response to homelessness in Philadelphia, early on.
Congregations of the presbytery that have supported Sanctuary Village financially include The Anchor, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore. Sanctuary Village is in conversation with a variety of congregations that want to help support the houses and residents, once the Tiny Houses are built (revised goal time: summer 2023). We are welcoming the participation of so many churches and others into our work! The project will give people opportunities to work together in new ways.
The ability to complete certain goals has been slowed beyond initial expectations, due primarily to the slow timing at which important background work, necessary for completion before the houses can be built, has been able to proceed. Delays have also resulted from COVID, as city offices were shut down for months during the initial phase of the pandemic, creating a backlog. Furthermore, the budget to complete this project has also increased, since our submission of the proposal for a Synod Innovation Grant, due in part to increases in building expenses for everyone, which have occurred during the pandemic.
One goal that has been adjusted or further fine-tuned within the past year is the focus population for this Tiny House community. For this first community, the Sanctuary Village Board has determined to go with a single-gender community for women only. From a cost perspective and a building perspective, this will be cheaper and simpler because the restroom and shower facilities in the community building will be able to be left as single gender. From a perspective of meeting the needs of people who are more vulnerable in Philadelphia, this decision also makes sense because among people experiencing street homelessness in Philadelphia, women are outnumbered three to four times by men, and this demographic can leave the women particularly vulnerable, and there are also fewer services available that are directed at women.
For developments in our project, updates are posted regularly through our website, Facebook page (Sanctuary Village Philadelphia), Instagram account (phillysanctuaryvillage) and quarterly newsletters.