ECHO Village to offer ‘hand up’ to those in need
A village has gone up seemingly almost overnight on Passion Play Road in Eureka Springs.
Eureka Christian Health Outreach (ECHO) co-founders Dan and Suzie Bell reported in September that they were working on creating the ECHO Village, a project meant to meet the community’s need for affordable housing.
Thanks to the help of the World Mission Builders and community volunteers, that vision is quickly becoming a reality.
Volunteer Kimberly Clark said she and Dan Bell began talking about addressing the need for affordable housing in the area about two and a half years ago.
“I’ve been fiddling with providing affordable sustainable housing for 40 years in Northwest Arkansas,” Clark said. “Dan and I started talking about it, and I said ‘We need to get some houses up here. We’ve got so many substandard houses.’ He said ‘Let’s have a meeting.’ ”
She said Dan Bell and Mayor Robert “Butch” Berry held a meeting to address the issue.
“I had purchased 10 acres next to the First Christian Church, and Dan had owned this land next to the police department with some other doctors for 20 years,” Clark said. “I was into being specific and having home ownership, and Dan wanted it to be rentals up here and have that money help ECHO Clinic. He said ‘Let’s do this one and maybe do that one later.’ ”
She continued, “I said to Dan ‘If you take this piece of property that’s in the city you’re going to have to go through all those hoops.’ He got it done. He had to mark trees to cut down and really did jump through several hoops.”
Clark said she met Joe Smith at a garage sale, and he told her about the World Mission Builders.
“I said ‘That’s what we need,’ “ she said.
“Joe heard we wanted to do this,” Dan Bell said. “He’s a volunteer at ECHO Clinic and has done several projects with them. He made this connection with our project coordinator Joe Wilson and made it happen.”
Smith said he got involved with the World Mission Builders when they built the First Christian Church in 2001 and has participated in 30 projects with the organization since then in Mexico, the Philippines and the United States.
“They did a lot of focusing on building chapels in the prison system in Oklahoma,” he said. “I think they’ve built about six or seven of those. They’ve built churches and housing in Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, all in the Midwest.”
Smith continued, “I’m working with Dr. Bell at the clinic. He said he wanted to get this ECHO Village project going, and I said ‘Maybe I can get our group to help out.’ They said ‘Let’s see if we can bid it out to some local contractors,’ and they found out World Mission Builders could build it for a lot cheaper.”
“We were right up to the last minute, and Joe said ‘If you all don’t have it done, then those guys are going somewhere else,’ ” Clark said. “We got it done, and here they came.”
At the beginning of June, she said, World Mission Builders brought 66 volunteers to Eureka Springs.
Wilson said the volunteers asked for three meals a day, housing and a place to park their vehicles.
“We’ve had between five and seven RVs show up,” he said. We’ve had volunteers from 13 different states, including New Mexico, Kentucky, Texas, Minnesota, Kansas and Iowa. This whole south central part of the United States has sent people over.”
Clark said she brought over her solar station and water catchment system, and the volunteers realized they could run their power tools off of the solar station while doing the foundation.
“They kind of liked it and learned something about solar,” she said. “That’s what we do with our group, Eureka Power & Light.”
It wasn’t all work for the volunteers, she said.
“We wanted them to feel welcome here,” Clark said. “We got them tickets to Turpentine Creek and the Passion Play, and we went to see ‘Joseph’ and ‘Samson’ in Branson, Mo. We went to the Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down.”
The local community also pitched in, she said.
“Tyson Foods gave us meat for the meals, and Walmart gave us food,” she said. “We had ice cream every day and used about 400 bottles of water a day. Local restaurants like Ermilio’s provided a meal here and there. They got to see a lot of our local community.”
Suzie Bell said ECHO Village has more volunteers coming in once the World Mission Builders finish their part of the project.
“We’ve got a youth group coming in soon,” she said. “This site has been declared a volunteer and mission site by the Methodist Church. Anybody who wants to do mission can come here and contact me. We already had one group come before the World Mission Builders came in.”
She continued, “We’ve also got connections with the Nomads, a Methodist group that does finishing work on homes. They like to do the finishing work, and I will contact them when we’re ready.”
Several churches have pitched in to help, Suzie Bell said, even sponsoring some of the homes being built.
“When we built ECHO Clinic, we went to all the churches and said ‘If you’ll get a team together and count it as a mission, then every church can come in week by week and get it done,’ ” she said. “They renovated that building and turned it into a clinic. We’re going to do the same thing here. We’re hoping to get a lot of volunteers.”
Living in the Village
Clark said the World Mission Builders have worked on eight houses so far. She said there will be about 26 total in ECHO Village, ranging in price from about $400 for a single-bedroom home and a little over $500 for a two-bedroom home.
“Utilities will be included with that,” she said. “They won’t be paying utilities. That’s significant up here. It will be affordable sustainable housing for all. That’s our goal. There’s no reason in a country as rich as this country that we don’t have housing opportunities.”
Clark said the location of ECHO Village also provides easy access to the trolley system, local health clinics, gas stations and area churches.
“Transportation, education, housing, food and healthcare are the big things we need to start addressing county by county,” she said.
She said the community they’re developing in ECHO Village is all about “giving a hand up, not a handout.”
“We’re going to have a community building in the center, chickens, a garden and hopefully some solar panels on some of these buildings before it’s all over,” Clark said. “Everyone is going to contribute something. We know everyone has something to give, and we’re going to find their gifts and get them to help out.”
She said some of the people who have filled out applications to live in ECHO Village have been helping build the homes.
“We have a 29 percent poverty rate in Carroll County, and 42 percent of the residents in Eureka Springs are housing and food insecure,” Clark said. “That’s unacceptable to me. That’s a distribution issue. It’s a systemic thing. It’s not somebody not wanting to do good or help out.”
Many of the residents ECHO Village is aimed at helping are single-income households or are affected by the seasonal work schedule in the area, she said.
Smith said ECHO Village will provide affordable rental housing for handicapped people, the elderly and people needing a home after coming out of prison.
“We’re trying to get them into a good home, get them a job and get them back on their feet,” he said.
Suzie Bell said some of the houses will be transition homes while others will be for permanent housing.
“A transition house means you might be a first-time jail offender and you need to get your life back on track,” she said. “You may need three to six months to get some guidance, job skills and stability so you can make that step forward and move on.”
“Then they can get a home of their own, and the next ones will come,” Clark said. “I don’t see us getting rid of the need quickly, but we can put a dent in it. This community can be a model to inspire people in our county to step up. We have a lot of talent in our county. We just need to help organize it.”
ECHO Clinic will own the homes and have a resident manager on site, Suzie Bell said. To live in ECHO Village, she said residents must sign a document agreeing to comply with the ECHO Village Covenants: be an active community member by interacting with and helping neighbors in every way possible, no illegal drug use and alcohol only in moderation, not smoking inside the houses, keeping their unit clean and contributing to the upkeep of the entire village, respecting yourself and your neighbors, respecting the property of others, observing the quiet times as posted in order to keep the peace, participating in the mentoring program as able and needed, taking prescribed medication that is critical to health and behavior, paying your rent and utilities on time, having long-term guests approved by committee and ensuring they agree to the covenants, having no more than two pets per household and respecting the environment and participating in recycling for the village.
Failure to comply with the covenants will be grounds for eviction, she said.
“Every resident will be required to take classes of different kinds to help improve their skills,” Suzie Bell said. “Some classes will be on how to write a resume, how to dress for an interview, how to manage finances, childcare classes and how to clean a house.”
ECHO Village needs to be a good model both for its residents and future communities like it, she said.
“We’re hoping to replicate this,” she said. “Poverty is a vicious cycle that sucks you back down. By learning financial skills and being an active member of the community, we’re hoping our residents can keep moving upward rather than keep cycling back down.”
Berry said he believes ECHO Village is an excellent project and opportunity for the city of Eureka Springs.
“The biggest problem we have in Eureka Springs is labor and affordable housing for that labor market,” he said. “Our labor for the hospitality people like dishwashers, maids and cooks and all that are not high-paying jobs, and many of them have two jobs just to be able to survive.”
Berry continued, “There’s not any housing in Eureka Springs that is affordable, so I think this will definitely supply a need for those people.”
He said he did a lot of the design work for the village.
“I’m a licensed architect. That’s actually what I do to supplement my mayor’s job,” Berry said. “They asked me to help design several of these houses. A couple of the designs came offline, and they need to modify them, so we’re modifying them to make them a little bit better and more suitable for our community.”
He said he believes ECHO staff is going to hold the residents of ECHO Village to certain standards.
“I think they’re looking at trying to set up a mentoring system, too, because a lot of these people who move in here really do not know how to budget,” he said. “This is going to be a situation where one person is helping another in this community in order to help everybody.”
Berry said he has been impressed by the amount of work volunteers have already completed on the project.
“The World Mission Builders had everything pre-fabricated and shipped to the site,” he said. “They’ve had a tremendous amount of people donate their time and efforts to complete this stage of the project.”
There have been some concerns in the city about the type of residents who might move into ECHO Village.
“If there’s any fear out there, it’s that it’s going to attract more people than they can take care of,” said John Cross, chairman of Cornerstone Bank’s Board of Directors. “We don’t know what’s to come, and I don’t think the ECHO people really know themselves until they really see where it’s going.”
He continued, “You’re not going to get any criticism from anybody until something happens. There hasn’t been any criticism of the ECHO project I have heard except we don’t know what’s to come. I’m not opposed to it. I just think the jury’s out on it.”
Clark said some locals have misunderstood the project to be a homeless community.
“All we can do is continue to say this is about all of our community,” she said. “We are gearing it toward people with limited incomes under $45,000 a year, especially these first eight homes. It’s about time for us to help out our people.”
“There’s a small percentage of residents who will have been homeless,” said Dan Bell. “They will be carefully selected as someone we can really help. It will be folks who are homeless because of circumstances out of their control. It will be the same for people who have just come out of jail or have mental health issues. There’s a lot of overlap there.”
Suzie Bell said there is no threat of ECHO Village bringing homeless people into the area because homelessness is already an issue here.
“The police chief estimates there are about 85 homeless families in Carroll County,” she said. “They’re already here.”
“ECHO Village is for people who just need a hand up,” said Dan Bell.
For people interested in volunteering or donating to the project, Clark said they can stop by ECHO Clinic at 4004 E. Van Buren in Eureka Springs and fill out “The Joy of Generosity” volunteer card. People interested in living in ECHO Village can also pick up applications at ECHO Clinic, she said.
“What do you do well? It’s not just about money. It’s about your time and your talents,” Clark said. “We want everyone in Carroll County to help out. I’d like to expand this project in the county and do it all over the world.”