Pastor Mike Cohoon in 2017 stands in the front doorway of a tiny house that had a homeless resident staying in it until recently. 

CHIPPEWA FALLS —There will be two more “tiny homes” — mobile homeless shelters — coming to Chippewa Falls, after the City Council approved a plan Tuesday to place them outside Notre Dame Parish, 117 Allen St.

The Council unanimously approved the special use permit. Councilman Chuck Hull was absent Tuesday.

Mike Cohoon, a pastor at Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie who has led the effort to place the tiny homes in the community, said his group has been in existence for three years. They currently have five units available, but four more are in the process of being constructed. Cohoon said he anticipates one will be completed and placed at Notre Dame before winter begins.

Any houses placed at Notre Dame will be in a grassy area, next to a utility pole to supply electricity.

A tiny home is mobile, built on a trailer, featuring a chemical toilet, heater, chair, table and bed. Between construction and furnishings, each house costs between $5,000 and $7,000 to complete. Cohoon said they have allowed one person to stay eight months. Guests are signed to seven-day contracts that are routinely renewed. None of the units have ever sustained any damage, he added.

“We have a pretty thorough vetting process,” Cohoon told the Council. “We’ve seen successes, but we’ve also asked people to leave, because they didn’t want to follow through with the secure living plan.”

This is the fifth location for tiny homes in the area: four are in city limits and one is in Lake Hallie. All are placed at area churches that are working on plans to address homelessness in the Chippewa Falls community.

In August, the Rotary Club of Chippewa Falls provided a $10,000 grant toward the construction of a larger shelter, big enough for a family of four or five.

Most of the units already completed and in use are 8-by-12 feet or 8-by-15 feet in size, Cohoon added. In the three years since the tiny homes were unveiled, homeless individuals have used the shelters totaling 2,400 nights, he said.

In February 2017, the City Council approved the first conditional permit for a tiny home to be placed at Trinity United Methodist Church, and has since approved the permits for the other two locations in the city: two have been placed at Chippewa Valley Bible Church on the south side of Chippewa Falls, and one is at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on the city’s West Hill.

Cohoon said they have seen no drop in property values of nearby houses because of the location of tiny homes. Councilman CW King, who lives across the street from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, said he doesn’t believe the nearby tiny home has impacted the value of his property.

The long-term goal is to have a village where all the tiny homes are placed together. People staying in tiny homes need to pass a background check first. Police have reported no problems with residents in the homes.

Chippewa Falls hasn’t had a homeless shelter since the Harmony House closed in February 2014. The Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition, a group of 17 area churches, has been working on ways to fill the void since Harmony House closed. Without the tiny homes, Cohoon said those people would likely be staying in tents or in their cars.

K9 involved in 29 searches in past year

In other news, Police Chief Matt Kelm gave an update on the K-9 drug dog. Kelm reminded the council that he anticipated it could take up to two years to raise the money, but it was generated in just five months.

“It was an incredible outpouring of support,” Kelm said.

The dog, Leo, is trained for tracking and searching, as well as drug detection and apprehension. Leo finished his training in November 2018, and has been involved in 29 drug searches, uncovering meth, cocaine and marijuana. He also has been involved in seven building searches. Kelm admits the search numbers were a little lower than he hoped, but he anticipates the dog will be used more in the future.

Expenses have included 65 hours of overtime for training, along with some veterinary bills.

“We’re well within our budget we anticipated,” Kelm said.

The dog is considered a public service, and Kelm doesn’t charge schools or other municipalities that request use of the K-9.