MIDLAND, Texas — 227. That’s how many people experienced homelessness in Midland in 2020. Of those, about 65 are chronically homeless, or people who've been homeless for at least one year.
The average life expectancy of the chronically homeless is 55 years old; that's over 17 years shorter than the general population. This is according to a recent Perryman Group analysis.
Homelessness has always been a problem, not just in Midland, but all over the country.
"Homelessness is something that I was totally ignorant of when I first got into this," The Field's Edge founder John-Mark Echols said. "And so I would see people on the street and wonder why in a place like Midland it was difficult for them to get a job and why they were homeless. As I've gotten into this work and realized that it's much more complicated than that, and I would say to people in Midland that when you do see people on the street, it's important to recognize that there are barriers that we may not think of."
The barriers, among other variables, are why John-Mark Echols and his wife Briana started “The Field’s Edge” in 2016.
"Our Mission at The Field’s Edge is to lift the chronically homeless off the streets of Midland and into the community," Echols recalled. "And so we do that by building a permanent supportive tiny home community that will support them and offer them services and most importantly relationships."
Echols started construction on this community in March of 2021, and he's well on his way to building a community for the chronically homeless.
One of the homes Echols' is building is already done... and it’s nice.
"So we're sitting in one of the tiny homes actually, this is our model house to show everybody what it is that we're building," Echols said as we stood in the model. "Each home is for one person, a single occupant person that has been chronically homeless in Midland for the last year. It has a bed, a sitting area, a sink, microwave, coffee, coffee pot, crock pot, heater, air conditioner, but the restroom and the laundry in the shower are all in a separate building. And we did that to really promote that community and interaction among our neighbors. [...] It's just meant to facilitate that interaction so that relationships get built."
And they're building eight more tiny homes just like that one. For nine lucky people - it will be the first time they've had a home in years.
"And so the nine people that are going to be moving in here we've known for many years, and some of them have been living with us in RVs for a few years," Echols recalled. "And they're ready to make a change and to commit to living in community and they're just looking forward to having a really fruitful and productive life. So we're excited to finally have them out here; see them flourish, see them heal, see them explore their gifts and talents. It's just really exciting where we're at right now."
The nine people moving in are all unique in their own ways. One of them loves sunflowers, another loves coloring and painting. One even loves collecting coins. It really shows that just because you’re experiencing homelessness, that doesn’t mean you’re not human.
"So one thing we really believe at the Field's Edge is human dignity," explained Echols. "And we try to promote that in every way that we can, and a small way we do that is by offering choice. So each neighbor got to pick their house based on the available homes. And then we're doing all the interior design work based on their preferences: so their favorite colors, their favorite movies. So we put together some wish lists of those items that the public can purchase, and have shipped to us so that we can personalize their home and make it ready for them to move in."
If you're interested in purchasing some of the items on the wishlist, this link shows the nine people and their interests. If you find one you'd like to buy for, click on their house and it'll take you to their wishlist.
For Echols, this is just the beginning of something much larger.
"The plan going forward is this is the first of ten pods so we have ninety more houses to build after this," Echols looked forward. "We're planning to operate this for a time and just try to get our feet underneath us, learn some things, make some changes in our design going forward, and then expand into more housing. You know, we want to do that as quickly as possible because there's a huge need. We already have a waiting list. But we also want to do it wisely."
If you want to help out the cause, The Field’s Edge is always looking for volunteers.
"There are many different ways that volunteers can get involved," Echols said. "If you have a gift of some kind and we can put it to work out here. We need people that are very relational. We need people that are more task oriented. We need drivers, we need board members and committee members have a variety of things. And so if this mission speaks to you, please contact us."
It's a mission Echols, his wife and their three kids are all committed to. In fact, they're moving in too. They'll live on the property full-time to help the community they serve.
A community of 227 people, who are grateful.
For more information about the organization, homelessness and ways to help, visit thefieldsedge.org.