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The Dwellings Marks its First Year of Life-Changing Success

Tom Flanigan

A special Tallahassee housing project to reduce area homelessness is marking its first anniversary.

The Executive Director of The Dwellings is John Schmidt.

“December 4th last year – our grand opening was December 4th – we had 11 houses occupied at that point in time. There’s 75 homes completed and 80 adults living here and four children. That’s a lot to happen in one year.”

Schmidt said these residents represent about every part of the general population.

“The youngest member of the community is 13, a child that lives with her single mom. Our oldest member of the community is 80 right now and so from 13 to 80 and every story that you can imagine, the community that’s building around them is pretty amazing to watch.”

The Dwellings is located off Blountstown Highway, less than a mile west of Capital Circle. The houses are literally tiny homes, ranging from just over 200 to slightly more than 400 square feet. Residents pay what are called “program fees” of no more than $850 a month, which also covers all utilities. Those who live in The Dwellings are mostly folks who have fallen on hard times, so just having a place to live is only the beginning. Monique Ellsworth is the Executive Director of Connecting Everyone with Second Chances. That organization overseas the Westgate Development closer in town, along with the Kearney Center, a community dental office there as well as The Dwellings.

“As the folks trickled in seeking the type of services that we were able to offer them, I think they’ve really told the story and shaped the community that we have now been fortunate enough to be able to play a part in for the last year. But it’s really been the people that are here and the people that we get to work with; that was the unknown and that has been the blessing of this year is getting to work and serve the folks that have come out here seeking the services that John and his team are able to provide,” she explained.

Schmidt added those services include building critical life skills for folks who may need some real help in that area.

“We say, ‘All right, what’s the plan of success? Where can we help you get from here to the next step?’ And when folks begin to share those kinds of stories with you and then you actually get to play a part in seeing those steps happen, financial plans of success start happening because we helped them create a budget, because we got them on track, because bills are getting paid and credit cards are being paid off. And you see people kind of filling up, but not bad pride, but with a pride that ‘I’m doing something!’ That truly means a difference.”

Ellsworth said another purpose of the dwellings is to provide residents with an actual community to connect with.

“We’ve had barbeques. Bands have come out here and played. We have a ‘Pride of the Porch’ competition where people are voting on whose is the most decorated. And so we’ve been really intentional in making sure that we’re highlighting and building up that sense of community, or highlights a neighbor-to-neighbor action that we hear about where somebody has really gone out of their way to help somebody else who’s living next door to them.”

Meanwhile, a community center is under construction and Schmidt said more housing units are a-building as well.

“By July of next year, there will be 130 built and occupied. Our waiting list is already pushed into 2019. If you called today and said you needed a house, I’d say, ‘Okay, how’s April or March look?’ Folks have been lining up and coming to us and going through the application and assessment process to move in here. And that’s exciting for us. It’s really exciting for the neighbors, too because it’s not out of the question that we’ll hear once or twice a week we hear, ‘When are the next group of neighbors coming in? We want to meet them!’”

And isn’t that what real community is all about?

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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