Saturday, 17 January 2015 00:00

NY Auto Body Shop Owner Develops Tiny Homes for Homeless

Despite our recent recession, America is generally considered an affluent nation, so it may come as somewhat of a surprise that, according to 2013 reports, there are over 600,000 homeless people in America. Even more disturbing is how these individuals are treated and looked down on by society. Carmen Guidi, owner of Guidi’s Collision Shop in Newfield, NY, decided that it’s past time to do something about the problem of the homeless in his community because “I couldn’t just see how hard some people were living and not do something. There, but for the grace of God, could be any of us. People need some space and a chance to get back on their feet.”

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That chance has come in the development of Second Wind Cottages, a series of 320 square feet bungalows designed to house homeless men. After returning from a mission to Haiti in 2010, Guidi began working with the homeless in his area, many of whom resided in “the Jungle,” an informal homeless community filled with men and entire families who’d run out of other options. The “tents” sheltering these individuals are frequently constructed of tarps, duct tape and milk crates, hardly sufficient to provide protection from the harsh winter elements.

As Guidi spent more time befriending the Jungle’s residents, he realized “the experience of trying to get assistance is so frustrating and difficult that many people feel trapped. Anybody, with a few bad breaks, could find themselves in this situation. It’s overwhelming for people with addiction or mental health issues. I felt so strongly that there needed to be a way to provide a safe sanctuary for a person to be able to break out of the cycle and take some time to piece their life back together.”

Noticing that most of the men didn’t do well in low-income apartments and shelters, Guidi began helping these guys temporarily escape homelessness with camping trailers, but then, “I asked myself how I would like to live in that situation. Housing services didn’t work because the men were drawn back into the same lifestyle, and they’d end up back on the streets. After watching people fail for a few years, I began to think that small, affordable homes made the most sense; they’d still be part of a community, but it would provide these men with more independence than other options.”

Fortunately, Guidi owned seven acres of vacant, level land behind his collision repair facility which he decided to use to make his dream into reality. Although Guidi personally contributed substantial funds as well, he quickly realized that he could not afford to finance the project completely on his own, so he reached out to Community Faith Partners to explain his objective. Guidi recalls, “the right people showed up, rallied and began fundraising. After that, we didn’t face too many difficulties. We went through the necessary steps, such as acquiring permits, but we didn’t really encounter any barriers. Some of the engineers involved with the project were amazed at how smoothly everything went. It’s really been a big faith walk for myself.”

At first, members of the community were hesitant, fearing trouble from a housing development for the homeless, but Guidi held monthly meetings to address their questions and concerns, and after a few months, “most of the attendees got onboard and helped us. Once they understood what it was all about, they really turned around. We have about 99% of the community’s support now.”
Community Faith Partners’ fundraising efforts generated over $160,000 toward construction costs, and from there, the community began chipping in.

“It became a grassroots efforts,” Guidi states proudly. “The Ithaca community really got involved. Businesses donated supplies, and individuals donated their time and labor. It was just a matter of connecting all the dots. Hundreds came out to construct the cottages; our volunteer labor force was absolutely incredible!”

The name, “Second Wind,” came to resident Tom Persun in a dream while the project was still being planned, and Guidi approved of how the name reinforces his goal of giving these men an opportunity to start over, a second chance or “second wind.” Providing people with another chance is important because Guidi realizes, “life isn’t easy. People deal with life in different ways. Some people turn to alcohol, some people turn to drugs, some people turn to eating, some people turn to other things. We have to deal with it the best we can.”

Since the objective of Second Wind Cottages is to provide homeless men with transitional housing and support, away from stresses and temptations, rules have been established for living in the development. Guidi feels that the rules set forth are fair and reasonable; “the men living at Second Wind must be clean and sober, or at least working toward it. While grace is given for slips, we expect our occupants to do their best to remain clean and sober so that they can really start over.”
The first seven cottages were completed in January 2014 and are all currently inhabited. Each identical cottage consists of a single room, containing a living area, space for a bed, and a fully-equipped kitchen, as well as a separate bathroom. Each unit has a separate septic system and is serviced by Newfield’s town water system.

There is a waiting list for the cottages that remain to be built. When completed, Second Wind Cottages will contain a total of 18 cottages as well as a large community building. Guidi anticipates that it will take two more years to complete the project, but homeless men interested in being added to the waiting list can fill out on application on Second Wind Cottages’ website. As far as costs for these men, Guidi says, “our friends are expected to pay a program fee as they are able, which includes utilities; however, it’s not based on the amount of time they live there but rather on their ability to create an income.”

The project has yielded many positive feelings from its residents who are grateful to receive a second chance to rebuild their lives. Guidi shares the stories of two residents: “One man had a criminal background and was labeled by society, so he couldn’t find a job, forcing him to live in a virtual cave which he called his tomb. It took a couple years, but now, he’s working two jobs and told me ‘I feel like a dead man that’s come back to life.’ Another man who was homeless for ten years is doing well now; he works at our local emergency shelter and has even been reconnecting with his family from whom he was estranged.”
Guidi has also begun ministering to single moms with children who are in situations that have left them homeless, and a separate property has been purchased several miles away from Second Wind Cottages where Guidi plans to build another development of small homes for women and children. Because there was an immediate need, they’ve already built one home to house a young mother and her children, but Guidi is planning to develop the land into a project similar to Second Wind, pending funding, once his first project is complete.

In the meantime, Guidi continues doing outreach and spending time with the homeless to build relationships. “We need to build trust,” he emphasizes. “We want to build a community that includes the homeless in it. When I was first confronted with the issue of homelessness, I couldn’t believe it happened in this country, and I don’t think our Creator wanted it to be this way. Building houses is secondary; building relationships is the key to our success. We’re not just building houses; we’re really building lives.”
For more information on Second Wind Cottages or to get involved, visit www.secondwindcottages.org.

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