Spearheading a project to house the homeless isn’t exactly where Ashlind Bray expected to find herself on the cusp of turning 30. But that’s precisely where she is, as the new director of The Tiny Village, a project she co-founded with her husband, Joseph.
The aim of The Tiny Village is right there in the name – to construct a tiny home community of transitional housing to help get area homeless individuals off the streets or out of the woods and eventually into a permanent housing situation. The non-profit was incorporated in May and is currently going through the 501 (c) (3) approval process.
Bray explained that the idea behind the project “is pretty straightforward. The solution to homelessness is to put people in houses.” Which, admittedly, can by easier said than done.
The Brays met while both were attending the University of Tennessee back in 2010. She majored in environmental education, and for a time worked as an educator at Ijams Nature Center. Joseph works for UT. Ashlind said he had an experience with a fellow worker that opened his eyes to the homeless problem.
“This man was living at the KARM shelter at the time,” she said. “Joseph had an extra room in his apartment, so he let him move in as a roommate. It was the beginning of great friendship.”
The couple found a common cause in street outreach to the homeless population in downtown Knoxville and in the Mission district, which they’ve done since 2014. Those efforts were curtailed last year with the Covid-19 pandemic, plus they have the addition of two young children, David and Margaret, in the past three years.
But that didn’t stop the thought of “someone needs to do something about this” from running through Ashlind’s head.
“We started researching different things, we talked with a friend out west who works with a tiny home village. They’re actually becoming widely used,” she said. “The solution is housing first.”
Without disparaging the efforts of other organizations, Bray noted that some issues become barriers for admittance into a shelter, most notably alcohol and drug dependence.
“The reality is it’s really difficult to detox on the streets. Or to get mental health treatment recovering from trauma. Or to get a job when you don’t have an address,” she said. “Most of these folks lack a support system. They do not have a stable family situation to return to and get back on their feet.”
Thus, The Tiny Village was born. And it is soon to become a reality. The group won the bid on two vacant, adjacent lots in Mechanicsville near the Knoxville College campus. They have 60 days to close on the properties, and are about $5,000 shy of the goal, but Bray feels confident the closing will happen.
In the meantime, she’s working closely with Knoxville City Council member Amelia Parker on code and building regulations for how the project will go forward once the purchase is complete. And she’s been pleased with the response from neighbors.
“The community has been very receptive. Most are glad something is going to be done with the overgrown properties. We really haven’t had any negative response,” Bray said. She added that though The Tiny Village is not a faith-based organization, her and her husband’s faith plays a large role in their commitment to the mission.
“This will help Knoxville as a whole, even to those who are not empathetic to their situations, this will make Knoxville better,” she said. “We need to see their humanity. It’s our job to help these people. God didn’t call us to do anything but feed you, clothe you, love you.”
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