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Local ministry offers low-cost RV rentals to house homeless

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A formerly homeless couple, Rick and Tammy, stand by the motorhome EveryONE Matters Ministries helped place them in. Courtesy, EMM.

A newly formed Christian nonprofit says it has already helped place homeless individuals in two mobile homes it owns in Citrus Heights, in addition to providing transitional housing to dozens of others in the Sacramento area by renting out a small fleet of RV’s and travel trailers it has acquired over the past year.

“It was never designed as a ministry; just me and my wife helping people,” EveryONE Matters Ministries (EMM) founder Steve Lindner told The Sentinel in a recent interview.

The nonprofit group’s 64-year-old founder has a long history of service in the Sacramento and Placer County areas, serving as an outreach pastor at Life Community Church in Roseville, founding a food closet, and serving on the board of a homeless charity in Roseville called “The Gathering Inn.

Since forming in mid-2015, Lindner said his new ministry has operated without government funding or grants, helping 51 people get into transitional EMM-owned RV’s and mobile housing so far, including three families who have “graduated” — meaning they are now permanently housed in their own homes or apartments.

How the helping began

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“This is where it all started,” Lindner said, referencing Citrus Heights and his first experience helping a 72-year-old homeless woman named Brenda get housing in a local mobile home park last year.

He recalled finding out she had recently become homeless and was living temporarily in an area hotel. Although tempted by an offer from friends to help Brenda pay for a hotel room, Lindner did the math on what $65 a night would cost as “rent” each month and realized 30 days in a hotel would run about $2,000. In light of the cost, his focus has always been on long-term help to get homeless persons established in permanent housing.

While pondering how to help Brenda, he recalled how his wife told him, “No 72-year-old woman is going to be homeless on my watch.” He then began looking at mobile home options for a more long-term and low-cost housing solution and soon found a mobile home with an affordable price tag around $4,000. Lindner said he was subsequently offered that same home, complete with two bedrooms and a bathroom, for a discounted price of just $2,000 – a blessing he credited God as the reason for.

Brenda, now 74, is housed with limited social security income, but is able to pay monthly rent and live on a budget Lindner helped her design.

“If it wasn’t for Pastor Steve, I would still be homeless,” Brenda said in a short phone interview with The Sentinel. “I’m grateful for everything that he’s done for me in my life.”

That was Lindner’s first experience helping house the homeless, but during this same time, he recalled meeting another couple in need at the same hotel. He recalled the story with tears of compassion in his eyes, explaining how he felt led to a room in the hotel where he knocked on the door and told the couple God had directed him talk to them.

“They just broke down crying,” said Lindner, who referenced a video interview of the couple posted on the EMM website, which explains more to the story. The video shows “Rick” and his wife “Tammy” standing in front of what they call their “humble abode,” an EMM mini-Winnebago sitting in a trailer park. Rick explains how after becoming homeless, car-less and job-less, Lindner had showed up “within five minutes” after they had prayed for God’s help.

While searching for a housing solution for the couple, Lindner said his mechanic told him he was personally living in a fifth wheel and recommended searching for one as a low-income housing option for the Rick and Tammy. Within a week, he said the couple was living in a mini-Winnebago he’d purchased for $500.

Following the two back-to-back experiences, Lindner said his wife Nanette believed there was more to this than helping a few people.

“Steve, this is a ministry,” he recalled her saying. “And then the phone kept ringing.”

How it works

With six calls a day now for help, and limited funds available, Lindner said his small nonprofit ministry has to focus on what he calls “situationally homeless” individuals and families – as contrasted with “chronically homeless.” He said the situationally homeless are those who are working or have an income source, but are unable to get into housing due to a variety of reasons, including eviction histories and poor credit.

Since forming EMM with his wife and a team of volunteers and board members, the ministry now purchases or receives donor RV’s and travel trailers, rents them out to qualifying homeless individuals or families in need, and then works closely to help them set up budgets and establish and meet short and long-term goals. The formerly homeless “tenants” are responsible for paying a trailer park for space rental, which Linder says can range from $390 to over $600 per month, with an additional $100 per month paid to EMM to cover insurance and maintenance costs on the RV’s and trailers.

Resident Manager Nina Higgins, who works at Casa Grande Mobile Village in Sacramento, said EMM has housed homeless tenants at her park without issue in the past and expressed appreciation for the ministry’s efforts. She said her park has both spaces for RV’s and mobile homes and confirmed a monthly rental price of $390, which includes water, garbage and sewer services.

Although starting out with mobile homes, Linder said his group now prefers travel trailers and fifth wheels, due to liability issues and most mobile home parks preferring that tenants own their homes rather than dealing with short-term renters.

Lindner said the group’s ultimate goal is to help homeless individuals and families into transitional housing, and then on to more stable or permanent housing — a process he says can take from three months to over a year.

“We try to make sure that we’re not enabling them by giving them a handout,” said Lindner, who also serves as president of a Roseville-based street sweeping company. “Our goal is to give them a hand up which includes budgeting, accountability and compassion.”

Asked to explain more about the difference between a “handout” and a “hand up,” Lindner said in his experience as a citizen and pastor, handout’s may change a person’s food or housing situation temporarily, but a hand up seeks to change the situation and also change behavior through mentoring and accountability.

“The whole purpose is not to just get them into a shelter,” said Linder. “Our goal is life-change behavior, which will help them become productive citizens in society.” As a faith-based organization, he also pointed to the group’s mission to lead others into “a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ,” but he said the group doesn’t proselytize and chooses to “show our faith by our actions.”

As part of the “hand up” approach, he said EMM pairs an advisor/mentor with each of its tenants, personally helping them set up a budget, establish and meet short and long-term goals, and provide general accountability throughout the transitional housing arrangement.

Obstacles faced

Due to limited resources, Lindner said EMM is currently only able to help those who have a monthly income source of $900 or more to cover rent, utilities and savings – an amount he’s found is enough for EMM to work into a budget for the individual or family. He said many people can even make $2,000 a month and still have a hard time finding rent.

“There’s plenty of people living in cars and have income, but can’t get (a place to) rent,” Lindner said, referring to issues like rent history, poor credit, lack of savings to pay for a rent deposit, and other barriers. He said approximately half of those he’s helped have had an eviction issue — a damaging history he says most landlords don’t want to take a risk with.

Lack of funds to pay for a rent deposit was what 55-year-old Debbie Armento said kept her and her son on the streets, even with her son working two jobs. After Lindner helped her get into a mobile home park in Citrus Heights and get back on her feet, she now helps EMM help others by assisting with donation distribution and joining the ministry’s board of directors.

Unlike typical rent elsewhere, EMM doesn’t have an issue with tenants who’ve had an eviction or poor credit history. The ministry also intentionally leaves it up to the tenant to find an RV park they want to live in to ensure it fits the tenants’ needs, like being close to school, work, or public transportation.

So far, the group has helped place homeless in housing in Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties.

[Follow future stories about homelessness and other local news by signing up for The Sentinel’s free Weekend Edition.]

Lindner said a common misunderstanding about EMM is that the group is just waiting for potential tenants to call and fill empty trailers owned by the ministry.

“Just because someone meets the minimum qualifications, does not mean you’ll get in,” Lindner cautioned. “99.9 percent of the time after someone is qualified, I then go looking for a trailer to purchase.” That process can take time, as well as the process of finding a suitable trailer park.

[Related: Citrus Heights seeks to address area homelessness]

Most recently, he said EMM was able to purchase its largest trailer, a 34-footer with a slide-out, by raising about half the funds on GoFundMe. The trailer cost $2,250, with an additional $1,000 needed to refurbish it to make it live-able for a family of five who qualified for EMM’s help in April, but still have to live in a hotel until the trailer is expected to be move-in ready by May 13.

As executive director of the one-year-old nonprofit, Lindner said he’s “constantly looking” for new connections and ways to improve. So far, he said the Roseville-based EMM has picked up support from several churches, including Bayside Church of Granite Bay and The Pointe Church in Antelope.

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With a shortage of resources to keep up with the demand, the organization continues to seek RV and trailer donations, as well as bedding, kitchenware and utensils to provide new tenants. Lindner said donations of time are also sought from those who can service motorhomes or help refurbish RV’s.

Those interested in learning more about EMM can visit www.everyonemattersministries.com.

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