The Cloverdale community has new temporary residents these days, and we all have Carolyn Lewis to thank.
Lewis, who owns the Locals tasting room and the brand-new LocalsCreate in Geyserville, bought a second home in Cloverdale and currently is using it to shelter families transitioning into temporary housing from homelessness.
The first families moved in this past October, and tenants have been living there ever since.
The effort, in conjunction with the Healdsburg-based nonprofit Reach for Home, is designed to provide families with a safe place to live while they get achieve stability. While Lewis doesn’t give up the space for free, she offers it to the families at a greatly reduced rent—a rent that Reach for Home subsidizes partially until tenants can pay for the entire amount on their own.
Living quarters at the house are small — the home itself is less than 2,000 square feet, and sometimes two families are sharing the space.
Still, the mere fact that these families are able to keep a home is an accomplishment.
“These are people on the edge of homelessness, people who are just starting to get their feet under them,” says Lewis, who notes she was inspired by an organization in Seattle called Facing Homelessness. “They are people who need help, and I’m glad to be in a position to help them.”
In addition to renting out the house Lewis found someone to live on-site, manage the property, and take care of the garden out back — a nearly 5,000-square-foot plot of land. The garden boasts all sorts of basic vegetables such as lettuce, carrots and tomatoes, everything from heirlooms to organics. Eventually, it will have a chicken coop. Right now, it has a website: YourTinyFarm.com.
Eventually, the goal with the farm is to grow enough veggies to feed everyone in the house.
“Given what we’re trying to do, it’d be perfect if we could make the garden into a subsistence thing,” Lewis notes, adding that soon there will be chances for tenants to get paid for working in the garden.
Lewis couldn’t have managed these efforts on her own; over the course of the last year, she has accepted donations from local merchants and vendors. Healdsburg Floor Coverings donated a floor. Cloverdale Nursery donated plants for the garden. The Soil King Garden Center in Cloverdale donated soil.
Looking forward, Lewis needs more help. So far this year, her site manager has been watering the garden by hand and would love to install drip irrigation. Of course Lewis also could use donations to help defray the costs of maintenance on the house.
To get involved, email [email protected].
Farther down the road, Lewis says she’d like to replicate this model elsewhere in north county and provide more transitional housing options for folks who are ready to escape homelessness. While she doesn’t have the cash to buy additional houses right now, Lewis says she’d be more than happy to provide guidance and advice to those who wish to make it happen.
“I’d love to see other people follow this example, but I recognize that in a tight real estate market the likelihood isn’t great,” she says. “Homelessness is a growing problem. We all can do our part to help.”
Matt Villano is a local freelance journalist. His column spotlights good people in the community doing great things.