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Greenville & Hockessin Life

All Housed: The Springboard Collaborative

Dec 21, 2020 11:27AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

When measured alone, the gift of Compassion owns the tender delicacy of butterfly’s wings, but when joined with Cause and Action, it contains the strength to change the course of human lives.

The first words of the story that is The Springboard Collaborative – an aspiring local non-profit organization whose mission is to eradicate homelessness and remove the barriers to education, employment and self-sufficiency – were written in 2015, when Hockessin resident Jeff Ronald wrote a letter to his hero, requesting an opportunity to meet with him.

Three years later, permission was granted, and in September 2018, Ronald and his wife Chris had the distinct privilege of meeting with the late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.

The Ronalds listened to Lewis reflect on his lifetime of humanitarian endeavors, and as he spoke, they noticed that on the walls of Lewis’ office hung the pantheon of American history over the past 60 years: photographs of Rev. Ralph Abernathy, John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Lewis as a young freedom fighter, among many others.

“His courageous activism and resolve to build a more just and benevolent world was awe-inspiring,” Ronald said. “I had admired Mr. Lewis from afar, but having the honor of stepping into the hallowed ground of his office was an experience we will never forget. Quietly, slowly and passionately, he emphasized the importance of getting into ‘good trouble’ -- ‘necessary trouble.’”

By the time they returned home, the ideas that the Ronalds had been considering -- to cultivate an ‘all-housed’ Delaware and alleviate human suffering -- had solidified. Soon after, they took the first steps to what became The Springboard Collaborative, Inc.

Short- and Long-Term Solutions

If 2018 served as the “Year of Dreaming” for The Springboard Collaborative, 2019 and 2020 have seen the organization take bold steps in determining its key aspirations. At the top of the list will be to develop both interim and long-term affordable housing solutions:

  • Offer non-congregate temporary dwellings -- as early as 2021 -- that will provide un-housed Delawareans with immediate access to warm, dry, safe shelter on the path to obtaining permanent housing. TSC will partner with Pallet, Inc., a social purpose company who produces durable, portable, pre-wired, and freestanding shelters for one to three people that can be delivered and built in just one day; and

  • Develop permanent eco-friendly tiny home villages in both urban and rural settings around the First State over the next few years. Choices of units will include a small cottage (220 square feet, for one resident); a medium cottage (290 square feet, for one to two residents); a large cottage (410 square feet, a two-bedroom unit that accommodates three to four people); and family cottages (two-three-bedroom units ranging from 700 to 1,200 square feet that can accommodate families with children).

This participator-supportive community will likely include raised box gardens, as well as outdoor and indoor year-round farming; an amphitheater for residents and the broader community engage in social activities; athletic/activity areas; and grassy “open space” areas to foster health and well-being.

Created as part of a co-op framework, residents will pay a sliding-scale monthly fee that includes a minimal ground lease cost to the Community Land Trust, a reserve fund fee to cover long term major repairs, a maintenance fee to cover short-term annual maintenance, and a payment for each resident’s share of Principle, Interest, Taxes and Insurance (PITI). The goal is to keep a resident’s monthly rent to less than 35 percent of his or her monthly income.

No matter if it’s an interim or permanent housing solution, there is more to the TSC’s goals than merely be able to put a roof over people’s heads. Through a consortium of collaborations with several Delaware-based agencies, residents will be linked to a network of regional support services. TSC neighborhoods will offer an on premise ‘resource hub’ for life’s basic necessities, plus free transportation to connect residents with off-site case management, mental and physical healthcare services and other programs offered by existing regional organizations.

“Emulating proven models around the country, we envision collaborative communities of affordable, modest homes where individuals and families can nurture a pathway to self-sufficiency,’’ Ronald said. “We hold as sacrosanct that all humans are worthy of dignity, respect and the opportunity to advance.

“Poverty puts constant pressure on people. Evidence points to inequities in our structural/societal systems, and lack of employment with a living wage, that inhibits human flourishing. Treat people with decency, remove barriers to opportunity and people will thrive.”

Grassroots campaign

While TSC looks to acquire its 501 (c) (3) non-profit certification that will subsequently open the door to seek corporate, agency, state, federal and philanthropic funding in 2021, their grassroots efforts to cultivate early interest has already drawn a groundswell of support. As part of its goal to raise $10,000 in seed capital by the end of the year, TSC kicked off a Go Fund Me campaign in the fall that as of late November, had already seen more than $6,000 in private donations, which is being used to pay for part-time employees and the development of a digital marketing platform.

To help create a visible prototype for the initiative, Frederick, Md.-based architects and planners Seth Harry and Associates have generously provided pro-bono conceptual drawings of the cottage community design.

As part of their extensive research, TSC studied examples of how the tiny home village concept has succeeded in other parts of the country. One of those is The Dwellings, a 139-unit development in Tallahassee, Fla. that provides a sustainable housing solution for individuals who are financially, socially, or institutionally disadvantaged. Developed by Connecting Everyone with Second Chances (CESC), The Dwellings provides residents with onsite case management, job placement, and medical and dental care, in partnership with approximately 40 local social service agencies.

Ronald said that The Dwellings is just one of many tiny home communities across the country that is paving the way for future developments like them.

“These organic models across the country have proven that they work, but the concept has not yet been standardized,” Ronald said. “Right now, there is a patchwork of solutions that are vetted and viable, and we fully believe that these efforts will continue to work with each other to create solvable solutions in the next few years. There is no reason to believe that we will not be able to have an all-housed citizenry in Delaware, either through the interim solution or through the long-term villages.

“It’s not a question of ‘If.’ It is a question of ‘When,’” he added. “There is no reason that the co-op model we are developing in Delaware can’t eventually be replicated and expanded throughout the tri-state area.”

Perception vs. Reality

Against the backdrop of the mighty aspirations the TSC has for the coming years, however, it is fighting an uphill battle against public perception of individuals experiencing homelessness and the stark reality of the economic hardships they endure. Sadly, a too-often common attitude toward the issue of homelessness is that it is the by-product of character flaws, poor choices and systemically passed from one generation to the next in a continuum of neglect.

In truth, however, the statistics speak otherwise. In its 2019 report on the State of Housing and Homelessness, Housing Alliance Delaware stated that:

  • There are only 38 available-affordable rental homes for every 100 extremely low income (ELI) renters in Delaware. A similar scarcity of housing exists even for low-moderate income families

  • Delaware has the 17th highest two-bedroom rental-housing wage in the U.S.

  • An estimated 3,500 Delawareans will experience homelessness at some point during the year

  • In 2018, 68 percent of those experiencing homelessness were homeless for the first time and as with seniors, homelessness is on the rise with single women and families with children.

“There is literally no housing product out there that is affordable for people who have only the financial means to devote 30 percent of their monthly income to rent,” said Judson Malone, a TSC board member and its director of project development. “We have been very diligent about how we’re going to bring our message to the general public. We will argue that the need to provide sufficient housing is a human rights issue, and the issue is not personal, but structural.

“People who are homeless are living a highly-traumatic life,” Malone added. “They have to get up in the morning and figure out where they are going to find food and where they will find a shower. Every day is a stressful day. Properly and humanely addressing that invites the need for what is called “Rapid Re-Housing,” which operates on the belief of ‘find them decent housing first, and let them get their lives in order.’”

In preparation for the “rubber meets the road” year of 2021, the Ronalds, Malone and members of the TLC board have already held substantive discussions with representatives of the healthcare industry, elected officials and key stakeholders. As the head into the formal fundraising campaign next year, Ronald said that the selling points of establishing interim and long-term housing for the homeless in Delaware have already been demonstrated by economically viable communities across the country.

Housing is a fundamental human right’

“To a person, they have told us that for every dollar that goes into these initiatives, will yield five to ten dollars back into the community,” he said. “Beyond the humanitarian component, and beyond the fact that housing is a fundamental human right, there is a growing body of empirical evidence around the globe that demonstrates once someone has a roof over their head, they get a good night’s sleep. They become employees. They pursue education. They become a tax-paying member of society. There is less recidivism. There is less reliance on emergency services.

“The accumulated amalgam of research has proven that the overwhelming majority advance in their education, advance in their vocation, give back to society and create healthier and more vibrant communities.”

As Ronald begins the long journey to the day when he can see the labors of his collaborative efforts with other kind-hearted individuals to create that ‘springboard’ of opportunity for those less fortunate, he said he is constantly reminded of the words of his hero.

“As John Lewis put it, nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society,” he said.

Make your contribution to The Springboard Collaborative.

Visit “Fundraiser by Peter Ferris: Help Jeff Ronald establish Springboard as a 501c3” on GoFundMe.com. To learn more about The Springboard Collaborative, email [email protected].

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]

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