ECHO project aims to create affordable housing

Friday, September 8, 2017

Eureka Christian Health Organization is all about supporting Carroll County residents in need.

ECHO co-founders Dan and Suzie Bell reported last week that they are working on creating the ECHO Village, a project meant to meet the community’s need for affordable housing. Dan Bell said ECHO recently purchased almost 10 acres on Passion Play Road to get the project started. The idea behind the project, Dan Bell said, is to build an affordable housing community with 20-25 small homes.

“It’s on the trolley route,” Suzie Bell said.

“And it’s pretty level for Eureka,” Dan Bell added.

The houses will be around 800 square feet, Dan Bell said, and they will be nice.

“There will be a couple of bedrooms and a simple living area with a kitchen,” he said. “And a front porch. Everybody ought to have a front porch.”

A central gathering hall will be built in the middle of the property, Suzie Bell said, as well as several other community-oriented structures.

“Say you want to have all your family over for Thanksgiving, and you can’t do it inside your little house,” she said. “You’ll have a community room that’ll have a kitchen. The plan is to have a community garden and chickens. It’s a village, not just a neighborhood.”

The community won’t just be for the homeless, Dan Bell said. He explained how ECHO Village will work, saying there will be a core group of families living on the property. A bunkhouse will be available for those just passing through Eureka Springs, he said, and a few houses will be set aside for the homeless and others transitioning from one place in life to another.

“We hope to have a couple for recent prison releases,” Dan Bell said.

“Maybe first-time offenders that have just messed up, and they just need a chance to get a fresh, clean start,” Suzie Bell said. “We’ll do that for them.”

Other people who will be considered to live in ECHO Village, Suzie Bell said, are the mentally ill, physically disabled, veterans, seniors and young families.

“The idea is a village where it’s cooperation. You’re close together, and that’s part of the requirement of living there,” she said. “There’s a series of covenants they’re going to have to adhere to. They’re going to have to agree to participate.”

That participation could include helping out in the community garden, watching the children or taking other members of the community to see the doctor, Suzie Bell said.

“One of the covenants they’ll make is they’re going to agree not to be a hermit,” Dan Bell said.

“You have to,” Suzie Bell said. “If you’re going to be a hermit and never leave your house, this isn’t the place for you.”

It will cost around $33,000 to build one house, Dan Bell said, and ECHO has already received a grant to build the first one. Suzie Bell said a local church has agreed to help build one of the houses, saying she wants every church in Eureka Springs to join in on that.

“The goal is to have as many volunteers help build these homes as possible,” she said. “That’s what has made ECHO strong. It’s all the churches, not just one group.”

The volunteer help is the reason ECHO can keep the costs down on the construction, Dan Bell said. He said a missionary group will be coming to Eureka Springs to help build the houses in April, saying that group should build around six homes. When it comes to the construction, Suzie Bell said, ECHO is hoping to do everything possible to be environmentally conscious.

“We’re hoping to break ground in September. We’re going to get the road cut in, and there will be some trees that have to be cut,” Dan Bell said. “We’ll try to leave it as untouched as we can. This is a low-impact development.”

The Bells have provided free healthcare at the ECHO Clinic for years, and Suzie Bell said they hope to continue that giving spirit with ECHO Village.

“We have noticed over time that a lot of our patients struggle with housing insecurity … a lot of them,” Suzie Bell said.

“A lot of them leave the clinic, and they’re living in their car,” Dan Bell added. “Here we are trying to get this patient with mental illness on the right combination of medications and make sure they take it, and they’re more interested in where they’re going to sleep that night.”

There are around 85 homeless families in Carroll County, Suzie Bell said, even though most people wouldn’t believe it.

“If you look at the school system, you’d be surprised how many kids are homeless, or what we call ‘couch surfing,’ ” she said. “That’s where they go friend-to-friend sleeping on the couch until they wear out their welcome.”

Suzie Bell said she’s excited to get ECHO Village off the ground, saying it will help the patients who come to ECHO Clinic on clinic nights.

“When you’re no longer worrying about where you’re going to lay your head, then you can start paying attention to your health,” she said. “We’re in a good set-up, because it’s not too far away from the clinic. It’s just around that corner.”

ECHO has already found someone to serve as the resident manager at the village, Suzie Bell said, and she and her husband are working on the criteria for those who would want to live in the community. Next year at this time, Dan Bell said, the first six houses should be built.

“If God is helping us with this as he helped us with ECHO, it’ll go better than we expect,” he said. “We’re not going to force it. We’re going to do it the right way. It’ll happen. It’ll happen over time.”

The Bells are seeking help in the community, from those who would like to help build the homes to those who just want to donate to it. To volunteer or donate, call the ECHO Clinic at 479-253-5547.

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