SoCal pastor housing the homeless in small cabins built on El Cajon church grounds

EL CAJON, Calif. (KABC) -- The sight of people living in the streets of San Diego County is no different than anywhere in the United States, but a cluster of small cabins in El Cajon might one day be a model for others to follow when trying to help those in need.

Rolland Slade, the senior pastor at Meridian Baptist Church explains the key piece of the puzzle.

"The greatest thing I think of what we're doing is that we're being creative," Slade said.

That creativity is a partnership between Meridian Baptist Church, cabin builder Amikas and social service provider Home Start will provide emergency sleeping cabins, primarily to women with young children.

"The intent of this space is to create a safe, calm environment for someone exiting homelessness on the street to escape the chaos," Amikas Board member Robert Bird said.

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Amikas has been trying since 2017 to find a home for their cabins, which don't have a kitchen or restroom, but they do provide electricity and a sense of safety.

"Even if we just have 12 people go through, it's going to make a difference in 12 lives, and that is, to me, that's what we're called to do in this community, and as this church," Pastor Slade said.

The six cabins are being built on what was unused property at Meridian Baptist Church, who will also provide access to church facilities.

"Weeds were growing up, we'd wack 'em down and throw 'em in the dumpster and we'd wait three months till they grew back up and then we'd wack 'em down again. That was what we were doing," Pastor Slade said. "Now we're gonna actually use that property for something will really make a difference."

Bird realizes the benefits of this particular location as well.

"We have the benefit of an established community top serve as a host, so the church itself can take in the residents of these six cabins as if they're taking in summer campers," Bird said.

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Cabin residents will only stay 90 days but City Council involvement was still needed to rezone the area, which initially didn't permit residential use.

El Cajon Councilmember Steve Goble was instrumental in cutting through the red tape.

"This is a win, win for everybody, and this is what the community was asking for. Try something, please," Goble said.

There is a lot of work still to be done, but it's expected that by Memorial Day, all six cabins will be fully occupied. The blueprint for what they've done is a real source of excitement for everyone involved.

"It will multiply and can be done not only in El Cajon but in all the other municipalities in San Diego County, Los Angeles, San Francisco, it's something that can just grow exponentially," said Slade.

Goble believes this model could track elsewhere.

"We want it to go anywhere. Not only in our county but throughout California," Goble said. "The idea here is to show all the different partners getting together that it can be done."

Operating from the idea that someone sleep deprived won't make good life decisions, these cabins provide an opportunity to rest, with the hope of using the resources available to get residents back to a stable life.

"It's a place to be in community, and part of a community all in one," Pastor Slade said

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