The first time Kim Reifschneider saw a tiny house, it was on YouTube.
The compact-sized abode is usually enough to accommodate one or two people at most, measuring anywhere from about 100 to 400 square feet. But for Reifschneider, it was more space than she had lived in for years.
Reifschneider, who was homeless and most recently living in a tent behind St. Patrick Center in Downtown St. Louis, became one of the first residents of three tiny houses in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of St. Louis, located behind Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish. She moved in about a year ago, and continues to take classes at St. Patrick Center, one of several federated agencies of Catholic Charities of St. Louis.
“I love it here,” she said. “It feels like a home.”
The Tiny Houses Project placed three houses in Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of north St. Louis, behind Sts. Teresa and Bridget Church. The project is the effort of several groups, including North Grand Neighborhood Services, Rockwood School District and Social Justice 4 All. The project has received help from the Catholic community, including St. Clare of Assisi School in Ellisville, St. Alban Roe in Wildwood, St. Matthew Parish in St. Louis, and Ascension Health, along with many businesses.
Organizers have said the joint effort addresses, in a small way, needs of homeless people in the St. Louis area.
The project started with Social Justice 4 All, a group of Catholics and other Christians from west St. Louis County who were invested in raising awareness of social issues and improving lives for others in St. Louis. The group learned about North Grand Neighborhood Services’ efforts to provide affordable housing through the Solomon Project, an initiative creating affordable housing in north St. Louis.
Through a connection with Social Justice 4 All, students in the Geometry in Construction classes at Rockwood Summit and Eureka High Schools built the first two tiny houses — each measuring 14 by 26 feet; one painted blue, the other green — with a third house being built on site. North Grand, which owns the property, manages the rental of the units.
Moving into a tiny house has been a positive step in the right direction for Reifschneider. The child of alcoholic parents, she had her first drink at age 12 and started using drugs as a teen. “I tried it all and could quit when I wanted to, but sometimes it got really bad,” she told St. Patrick Center.
Reifschneider also experienced violent trauma, including an explosive fire at a rental house, which left her homeless. She moved to Florida, but only saw more homelessness there, so she returned to St. Louis. After a visit to a hospital one freezing winter day, she was referred to St. Patrick Center, where she was with the Women’s Night Program for a while.
After leaving the program, Tiarra Young, a caseworker with St. Patrick Center’s Mobile Outreach, told her about the tiny houses and helped make a referral to North Grand Neighborhood Services. Riefschneider continues to take classes on anger management, cognitive thinking, AA, NA and meditation at St. Patrick.
She rides a 49cc scooter, which she nicknamed “Little Mary,” after the Blessed Mother, to her classes at St. Patrick. She also attends Mass at Sts. Teresa and Bridget and with the Missionaries of Charity nearby, and writes in a journal every day.
In her kitchen hangs a towel that says “love builds a happy home.” She’s said she’s happy where she’s at, and plans to live here for as long as she can. “It’s been going fine,” she said.
>> Benefit concert
A virtual benefit concert to raise funds for a new tiny house in north St. Louis will take place from 7-9 p.m. Saturday, May 1. Social Justice 4 All is collaborating with several nonprofit organizations on the effort. The organization is seeking $13,000 to complete construction of a third house in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood. Two completed houses are currently occupied.
The concert will be streamed for free on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim51ford or on YouTube (Good Trouble, St. Louis Music). Donations are being accepted via GoFundMe: https://stlreview.com/3tDKe0w.