Second Wind Cottages: A Housing First Model

Second Wind Cottages provides small, single-occupancy homes and intensive case management to men in Newfield, New York.

A trip to Haiti in 2010 inspired Carmen Guidi, a business owner near Ithaca, New York, to look for ways to give back to his community. Prior to the trip, Guidi said he “overindulged and overlooked my neighbor.” When he returned, he became involved with local homeless outreach efforts. A series of deaths from suicide and cold exposure among individuals experiencing homelessness prompted Guidi to focus his energy on securing housing for men who were experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

But he found it difficult to find homes for many men. He explained that even employed individuals might struggle to find affordable housing near Ithaca. As winter approached, he feared that some of the 20 individuals living outside would not survive. “These guys would rather die in the cold than go to a shelter,” he said.

He also noted that many of the men did not qualify for nearby shelters or other housing options because they had active addictions or because they did not meet other program requirements. Guidi bought camping trailers and set them up on property he owned behind his business. He found that the men he housed became healthier and some were able to begin recovering from addiction. But heating the campers through the area’s long winters was too expensive, and he realized this model was not sustainable in the long run.

So Guidi connected with Community Faith Partners,a local faith-based, nonprofit organization based in Ithaca, to establish Second Wind Cottages, a village of tiny, single-occupancy homes on his property. Local businesses donated materials and labor to build the cottages and the project raised $100,000. Between September 2013 and January 2014, volunteers built six cottages, with help from the men selected for the program. A seventh cottage was recently completed. Each cottage measures 16 by 20 feet, includes a kitchen and bathroom, and has a small backyard.

When he began the project, Guidi was unaware that it fit the Housing First model of caring for individuals in need of stable housing. He was also unaware that other organizations across the country—including in Austin, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin; and Greensborough, North Carolina—also were experimenting with creating so-called "tiny homes" for individuals who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Instead, he explained, the idea for the cottages was driven by what he thought he would want if he were homeless. “They do want a community,” he said. “They want their own dignity.”

The program caught the attention of local churches, social service agencies, and the mayor of Ithaca, who have all provided support. Guidi has hired two part-time social workers to provide intensive case management for the men and help connect them with local services. So far, five of the men have found full-time jobs and another has a part-time job. Two of the men were able to get their driver’s licenses back, Guidi said. The men also have seen improvements in their health. Men who are able to do so pay some rent to cover a portion of the costs of running the program.

The goal is to help each man feel successful. Guidi noted that success looks different for each of the men—for some it is getting a job or recovering from addiction, while others may be focused on restoring family relationships.

Guidi said he thinks there are more pros than cons to this model of housing. He acknowledged that some argue it would be cheaper to house the men as a group, rather than build the individual cottages, which cost approximately $13,000 each. Initially, the program did meet some community resistance. But Guidi said he was able to “win people over.” He noted that getting volunteers involved in building the cottages helps engage the community and allows community members to get to know the men as individuals.

“Even if a guy slips up, he’s in his own place, so he doesn’t affect other residents,” he said.

In the next two years, Second Wind Cottages is scheduled to grow to include a total of 18 to 20 cottages and a community building. The estimated cost of adding these buildings is $300,000, according to Guidi. He is also applying for 501(c)3 status for Second Wind Cottages so it can become a separate entity from Community Faith Partners, which is currently serving as an umbrella organization for the program.

Guidi credited the program’s focus on the men as individuals with its success so far. “Building relationships with the men and really caring about them is key,” he said. “It gives them hope that they can rebuild their lives.” He noted he has gotten to know the men and considers them friends.

“It’s more than just putting a roof over their heads and giving them food,” he said. “It’s walking beside them that’s really made a difference.”

This article was originally published to highlight the June 2015 theme of Men's Behavioral Health Conditions.

Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.

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Bridget M. Kuehn
Last Updated: 04/19/2016