McKown Village: Tiny homes, big hearts for the homeless
September 11, 2017
When you’re living on the street, the idea of your own home seems like an impossible dream. A group of volunteers and businesses in Norman, Oklahoma, turned that vision into a reality for 32 people and families. McKown Village recently welcomed its first residents to the community of tiny homes—cottages that range from 358 to almost 700 square feet, and each with its own unique look. The small homes are a big deal for the people moving in. They’ve been homeless, barely surviving on the streets or in temporary shelters. With McKown Village, every person gets a new start, rent-free in a fully furnished home where they can stay for up to a year while they rebuild their lives without the worry of finding shelter. The homes were built by Ideal Homes of Oklahoma City, and the project was spearheaded by the company’s president of development, Gene McKown. Gene was inspired to take on the task when, three years ago, the pastor at his church asked the congregation what they had done to help others over the past year. “I couldn’t sleep,” said Gene, an experienced fundraiser and auctioneer. “I was wired to the wall. One day, I raised $800,000, but I started early.” The construction materials for the homes were donated by Ideal Homes’ business partners, or purchased at or below cost. When the construction was completed, community and church members took care of the furnishings. “It really impresses me when people do things like this,” Gene commented. “The love that has gone into these is completely amazing.” April Heiple knows many of the residents of McKown Village. As executive director of Food and Shelter, Inc., a non-profit organization, she has worked closely to help them get on their feet. One family lived out of a car. A divorced woman and her three-year-old daughter stayed wherever they could find shelter. Another man who was mentally ill had been wandering the streets for years. “They are all deserving of a home,” April said with tears in her eyes. In eight years of working for Food and Shelter, she had become close with many of the people she served. “It was so hard to go home and night, knowing my friends had no place to sleep.” As transitional housing, the cottages are available for up to a year, at no charge. When the residents leave, they can take any furnishings from the tiny home. Everything is replaced, as needed, thanks to the generosity of the community’s sponsors. McKown Village is located on Reed Avenue, just south of Main Street in Norman. Ideal Homes also constructed a covered pavilion with picnic tables and a play area, and administrative offices for Food and Shelter, Inc. These offices include a kitchen, dining hall, shower, and laundry facilities that are available to homeless people. In harsh weather, the dining hall will be used as an overnight homeless shelter, housing up to 200 people. “This project is about new beginnings and bright futures,” Gene said. “We want to help people who are living and sleeping on the streets—to give them a comfortable home while they work on the next steps in their lives.” For more information about McKown Village, contact Ideal Homes.