Housing is reason for thanks as Bear Creek looks to grow mission
Karyssa and Tyler Shoemaker are thankful to be in their new home, but they are also appreciative of the experience that led them there.
"It was bittersweet leaving Bear Creek, but I am thankful we established so many good friendships with our neighbors and the staff there," Karyssa Shoemaker said.
Bear Creek, the former Crossroads Bible College campus, has housed a variety of families and individuals since the college closed in 2016. The Southwest Rochester campus has recently been renamed Mayowood Acres.
Even before Bear Creek Christian Church finalized the campus purchase in 2018, the former student housing was being rented to Minnesota and Teen Challenge graduates as they established new drug-free roots.
That’s how the Shoemakers, along with their then 2-year-old son, Kayden, became some of the first residents as the church worked to expand affordable housing in the city.
The family was subletting a basement without a kitchen for $700 per month in 2017 when Tyler’s past felonies caused them to be evicted.
Tyler had recently graduated from the Teen Challenge program, and the couple had decided to settle in Rochester. Karyssa is from Shakopee, and Tyler is from New Prague.
Finding new housing on the former college campus allowed them to establish roots.
Tyler continues working in construction at Ab Systems, where he’s worked for two and a half years, and Karyssa recently started working as the littles coordinator at Rochester Assembly of God.
"Living at the Bear Creek Christian Church campus was two of the greatest years of our lives," Karyssa said. "We know that when we were living there, and even today, that we were genuinely loved and cared about."
The couple closed on their new Pine Island home at the end of September, buying it from someone they knew through church after months of looking for the right house.
Jeff Urban, outreach pastor for Bear Creek Christian Church, said the Shoemakers’ story is one he hopes to see repeated as the Mayowood Acres campus continues to be an option for affordable housing in Rochester.
The church is planning to add nine, single-room units next year, with hopes to start construction this year with a $400,000 budget.
"That will include some volunteer labor to keep costs down," Urban said, noting Bear Creek continues to raise funds to support its housing efforts.
He said it’s still uncertain whether the units will be available for a specific type of resident — veterans or seniors have been discussed — but he has no doubt they will be filled when available.
"We know we can fill these right away," he said, noting the goal is to rent them for $550, which would likely include utilities.
Urban said the complex’s various housing types, from larger apartments to dorm-style housing, are frequently filled
Tenants largely earn less than 60 percent of the area median income and come from a variety of groups that face local housing challenges, including refugee families and felons.
"It’s been a real mix of people," he said.
With more available land for housing, Urban said Bear Creek is eyeing its next steps.
The church plans to create a master site plan with the help of Three Rivers Community Action.
When the site was initially converted from a college campus, Urban said most of the planning was geared toward obtaining initial city approval to transition the existing housing, without considering how the surrounding land could be used.
"We didn’t have the time or funds to look down the road too far," he said.
Three Rivers has received a grant to cover half the cost of creating the new plan.
Chris Flood, a Three Rivers community development officer, said the agency has been talking with Urban and others from Bear Creek since before they purchased the campus. He acknowledged the agency saw the move as a risky undertaking when it was first proposed.
"They are pretty amazing people, and the church has done a pretty fantastic job in making it work," he said, noting the project appears to be on a solid path with potential to grow.
Flood said Three Rivers has sought to continue to provide advice and support.
"As their needs have come into focus a bit more, we’ve talked to them a little bit more formally," he said, noting those discussions are aimed at how to find the most efficient use of the property and organization.
Flood said future plans could include the two groups working together to build more housing, but it’s not a condition of the partnership that’s examining options.
"If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen," he said, noting the key focus is to find ways to continue to support the creation of housing for people who face the biggest housing obstacles in the community.
"The ways we could be involved in future phases are varied," he added.
Urban saidTHAT however it unfolds, the goal remains the same — to help more people find housing options and more reasons to be thankful.