A cluster of tiny houses set up as a model community at a Maplewood church could be the next step in housing the unsheltered homeless residents of St. Paul.

The "sacred settlement" features customized single-room dwellings that the nonprofit Settled hopes to relocate to Mosaic Christian Community in the capital city's Payne-Phalen neighborhood. Four of the houses would be for people who are currently homeless. Two others would be inhabited by people who are not unsheltered but who pledge to help foster the community.

"We think that the current model cannot meet the scale of needs in our country for homelessness," said Anne Franz, Settled chief operating officer and co-founder. "This is another solution that can really help us scale to meet the need."

The houses are located at Woodland Hills Church in Maplewood, but the St. Paul settlement is expected to be up and running by the end of the year.

Unsheltered homelessness has been a growing problem in the Twin Cities in recent years, with both Minneapolis and St. Paul struggling to deal with camps in parks and along public rights of way. Last week, a fire in a St. Paul camp left one woman dead and another person injured. It was the third death of a homeless person in St. Paul this winter.

St. Paul officials believe 179 people are now sleeping outdoors, down from a high of 380 this fall after efforts by the city and Ramsey County to open temporary shelters, including at the former Bethesda Hospital.

Local governments and advocates have also looked to tiny homes as part of the solution. An indoor tiny home village is being piloted in Minneapolis, and Settled is already working with Forest Lake on another tiny home community with a church connection. Settled has modeled its plans in part after a village that includes micro-homes to mitigate homelessness in Austin, Texas.

Settled co-founder and chief executive Gabrielle Clowdus, believes the community is at a tipping point.

"Are we going to push into this and really address it, or are we going to lean back and just hold on to our own little worlds, and forget our neighbors that are poor and that need help, and that look differently and act differently than us?" Clowdus said.

Settled's community-first model emphasizes the importance of companionship and a support system in addition to building living spaces for the homeless..

In one of the tiny houses will be Paul Bloedorn, Erika Schmidt and their kids. "One of the most important things we can give our family and our children is perspective, a different perspective, a different view on the world," Bloedorn said. "This gives us a chance to see life from a different side."

In addition, the Settled team will be revamping part of Mosaic Christian Community's interior to add amenities, such as a shower, for community members to use. The total cost of each household, including the repairs to the church, is about $50,000.

Settled hopes to continue to partner with churches and volunteers throughout the Twin Cities area.

"We don't just intend to build one tiny home village or one sacred settlement," Clowdus said. "We want to see a community-first movement rise."

Peter Warren • 612-673-1713