CHIPPEWA FALLS — Mike Cohoon wants a proposed “tiny home” project — which allows homeless people to live in 8-by-12-foot homes — to be successful and a good neighbor.
Cohoon is part of the Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition — a group of 17 area churches — that is trying to assist homeless people by building small houses for them.
Some neighbors of two Lake Hallie tiny homes fear people who would stay in the movable buildings have drug or alcohol problems or are sexual predators. Cohoon said those fears are unfounded.
“We go through a screening process and background checks, and we’re informing the local Police Department they are here,” Cohoon said. “We’re doing all this because we want this to succeed.”
Cohoon, a pastor at Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie, spoke to the Lake Hallie Plan Commission on Monday about the tiny home concept. The Plan Commission agreed to allow the church to place two of its tiny homes on the church’s 8.5-acre parcel.
Cohoon said the church has tried to be a good neighbor. A forum was held Sept. 22 about the project, and about 50 people attended.
“Most people think helping the homeless is a good thing, but they’d prefer it be somewhere else,” Cohoon said.
So far, three tiny homes and a camper have been built. Cohoon said supporters of the project plan to have eight total homes by next year.
“We are asking churches in the area to host one or two of them,” Cohoon said.
Eloise Rowan, Lake Hallie Plan Commission chairwoman, said two neighbors spoke against the idea on Monday.
“It’s very controversial,” Rowan said. “We just don’t know what to do. In our ordinance, we don’t have anything banning it. The neighbors are understandably upset.”
The church’s property is zoned for highway and commercial uses.
“It doesn’t say campers or trailers,” Rowan said.
Rowan said she understands the goal of helping homeless people get out of the cold and into a heated home. She added it’s important for them to have an address so they can seek employment. Rowan didn’t have a problem with having two of the homes at the church.
“More than two, you can have personality conflicts,” she said.
Rowan said she was more disappointed that the church didn’t approach the village with what they were planning.
“They didn’t come to us; we went to them for information,” Rowan said. “They built them, and just put them there. I just think they are going about it the wrong way.”
Plan Commission member Nancy Mauhar said she received calls from neighbors near the church.
“The church is not in violation of anything,” Mauhar said. “They are in their rights to do it.”
Mauhar noted that there is a tiny homes village in Madison that is working well.
“It sounds like a good idea,” she said.
Mauhar agreed with Rowan that she wanted to cap the number of tiny homes at the church at two.
“(If there were more), then it might be considered a campground,” Mauhar said.
Village president Wayne Walkoviak endorsed the agreement, capping the number of homes at the church.
“I think we came away with a good plan,” Walkoviak said. “It’s a good opportunity to get someone who is homeless a shelter. I think it’s a great idea.”
Cohoon said he understands the concerns of the neighborhood so the two homes will be placed on the side of a garage that aren’t visible to nearby residences.
“Neither is occupied right now,” Cohoon said. “One was occupied the week of Aug. 15 until recently. And we did have a family in the camper a few days.”
The long-term goal is to acquire a permanent parcel of land to place about a dozen of the homes. A lodge or main building would be constructed with shower facilities. However, until that site is determined and bought, the tiny homes will likely be placed in parking lots at area churches.
The goal for a permanent site would be somewhere close to downtown Chippewa Falls so it would be near grocery stores, the free medical clinic and county services. Cohoon said he has met with Chippewa Falls city officials about the village concept.
“We’ve kept all those people in the loop since April and are following the process,” Cohoon said.
Each house is to feature a bed, a chair, a table that can fold up against a wall, a heater and a small chemical toilet, similar to what would be in found in a recreational vehicle, Cohoon previously said. Construction on the first home began in January.
He estimates each house will cost between $5,000 and $7,000, between construction and furnishings.
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