The Eco Village Project of Fresno unveiled a prototype eco-shelter yesterday that they hope to duplicate on a larger scale for housing Fresno’s homeless. The shelter is located at the Dakota Eco Garden, a project started by retired school teacher Nancy Waidtlow. The structure is self heating and cooling; and is built with recycled and natural materials.
The goal of the Eco Village Project is to provide safe, sanitary, uplifting and dignified housing for the homeless in an environmentally sustainable manner and to provide a holistic environment that gives the mental, emotional and physical tools necessary to escape the endless cycle of homelessness.
Arthur Dyson, the architect behind the village said he envisions a half-block lined with these structures, communal bathrooms, a laundry room, a computer space and a large gathering area being completed by the end of this year, but the group doesn’t have a space to advance the project.
“The city has no interest in giving us space,” Dyson said.
“We would even take some additional space just for more tents,” project board member Joan Levie added. “We have completely run out of space.”
The stumbling block for the Eco Village project has always been the acquisition of property suitable for its needs. After attending advocacy meetings for many months, and hoping to move from talk to action, Waidtlow found and bought a 0.59-acre lot in west central Fresno that Dyson and the rest of the board agreed would be a good place to try out some of the Eco Village ideas, and especially to build a prototype of the Dyson-designed eco shelters. Waidtlow wanted to provide some housing and at the same time demonstrate that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to create a safe, stable and even uplifting environment for the homeless.
Since 2010 the Dakota Eco Garden has operated as a non-profit and provided a space for people to evade Fresno P.D.s homeless task force, and a place to call home while they seek employment and more permanent housing.
Nancy Holmes, 63, had nowhere to go after she was evicted from a homeless encampment in downtown Fresno over a year ago.
“When I was out there I didn’t worry about a future. I didn’t think about a future I didn’t have one,”
After two weeks, she found a place to call home.
“The Dakota Eco Garden has given me a new path. I do care if I live or die,” she says. “I do go to the doctor, I do try to quit smoking. I do have something to say.”
Holmes says living at Dakota Eco Garden has changed her life.
“It’s given me a reason to go on and a good feeling inside that I’m helping be a part of something that’s so much bigger than just property and some tents and some people,” she says. “It’s a new way for people to think about homelessness.”