This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

MDS responds to a different kind of disaster: homelessness

DENVER — At the annual meeting of the Mennonite Disaster Service Colorado Unit, board members decided to think outside the box.

Instead of responding to a natural disaster, they would address a human disaster — nearly 10,000 homeless people seeking shelter on any given night in Denver.

MDS volunteers help construct tiny houses as shelter for homeless people in Denver. — Mennonite Disaster Service
MDS volunteers help construct tiny houses as shelter for homeless people in Denver. — Mennonite Disaster Service

“Having worked with MDS for almost two decades, I thought I knew disasters pretty well,” said Paul Johnson, unit board member and pastor of Mountain Community Mennonite Church in Palmer Lake. “They were usually muddy, moldy muck if it was a flood.

“But what about this new disaster?”

Homeless advocacy groups asked if the unit could assist with building 11 “tiny houses” as shelter for homeless people. The houses would have electrical power and heat but would be built on transportable foundations. A portable shower and commode yurt (circular tent) would also be constructed. The houses could be moved to another location as needed.

The unit agreed to work with Blessed Community Mennonite Church, Interfaith Alliance, Denver Homeless Out Loud and other local groups.

In April, the partnership expanded when the stewardship agency Everence offered assistance. Everence gave a grant, and local homeless groups set up a GoFundMe site. An architect volunteered time, and a contractor took the house plans to the city building department for approval.

Johnson and his wife, Mary, along with Cole Chandler, pastor of Beloved Community Mennonite Church, coordinated, instructed and led the volunteers.

Volunteers worked more than 3,500 hours during the seven weeks of construction. Between 150 and 200 people, some from local Mennonite churches, came to the site to volunteer.

The project began May 20. By the end of June volunteers were putting up siding and roofing and insulating the bath house. Residents were able to move into the homes in late July, and a ceremony was held Aug. 12 to celebrate the completion of the houses.

“God is still at work in this world,” Johnson said. “If you have any doubts, follow Jesus; go to the margins of society. Go where the homeless sleep and ask what their greatest dream is. It’s a humble one: a simple roof to keep the rain out and the snow off.”

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