A Place to Call Home

Eden Village will provide permanent housing for some of Wilmington’s chronically homeless

BY Emory Rakestraw

Tom Brown, left, and Kim and Tom Dalton of Eden Village were on site at Kornegay Avenue to see the arrival of the nonprofit’s first home in Wilmington on January 13, 2021. Allison Potter.
Tom Brown, left, and Kim and Tom Dalton of Eden Village were on site at Kornegay Avenue to see the arrival of the nonprofit’s first home in Wilmington on January 13, 2021. Allison Potter.

Home is more than a literal place or shelter. Home is a feeling, a comfort, a space to go when your bones are tired and you’re ready to hang your hat for the day.

For over 500,000 Americans, this is more of a dream than reality. That’s how many homeless people there were in the 2019 count — those who have no shelter.

Tom and Kim Dalton saw the need in the Wilmington community and wanted to create homes for those without. They both have a background in the medical field and used their belief that housing is healthcare to propel their vision. 

“If you take someone who has diabetes, high blood pressure, these basic things where you or I might treat them and live a normal life, they’re very difficult to regulate on the streets,” Dr. Tom Dalton says. “Insulin has to be refrigerated, you have to have a place to store your medicine and a machine to check your blood pressure. And when you’re in a tent on 15th Street, that just doesn’t happen.”

The Daltons started researching solutions and discovered Eden Village in their hometown of Springfield, Missouri. Opened in August of 2018, the tiny home community provided permanent housing for 31 individuals, with 29 of the original residents still there today. 

The couple formed an official partnership with Eden Village and Nate Schlueter, chief visionary officer. Schlueter provided fundamental tools like business models and website development. They also brought on Tom Brown, a retired Wilmington CPA with ties to the Springfield location, as board member and treasurer. 

Brown worked to increase grant funding and was able to speedily secure 501(c) nonprofit status for Eden Village of Wilmington. His current focus is on donors and fundraising.

“We need families, civic groups, churches and corporate entities to join us and sponsor each home individually,” Brown says. 

First slated for a 2020 opening, Eden Village of Wilmington now hopes to open in early 2022. The first tiny home arrived in January 2021. It’s a model to the community and potential donors to cast the vision of what could be. 

The 450-square-foot home features a front porch with swing. Inside, there is a cozy living room and full kitchen with all the necessities to make a meal from the community garden. The bedroom radiates comfort with décor, linens and a dresser. Everything is predesigned and provided to ensure tenants have a smooth transition. 

The courtyard-style living community will be entered through a gate. A community center will house a first aid room, office space, and serve as a place where social workers and volunteers can meet with residents.

Assisting with the process of vetting applicants (there’s already been over 200 inquiries and applications) are social workers Ursula Greene and Donna Evans. Qualifications for residency include a history of chronic homelessness along with a physical or mental disability. 

In Springfield, one resident became homeless after selling her home to afford a nursing facility for her husband. She lived in her car for five years before becoming one of the first residents of the original Eden Village.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National Alliance to End Homelessness both list North Carolina as having more than 9,000 homeless, with more than 300 on the streets on any given night in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

Dalton and Brown look forward to Wilmington’s success stories.

“When you have 20-30 people together, where everyone knows everyone’s name, and they’ve all been through this horrible experience of being homeless, they serve as a support system within,” Dalton says. 

For now, there’s plenty of ways to get involved. Outside of donations and funding, anyone interested can sign up online to volunteer for yard and garden work or as a hands-on home or team member. 

“We will never house everyone — we have a realistic understanding of that — but we want to give people hope,” Dalton says. “Eden Village is an idea that can spread across the nation.” 

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