Big hearts, tiny houses combine to advance mission at Seattle church

Madrona Grace Presbyterian expands homeless ministry with little dwellings

August 11, 2015

Pastor Mark Zimmerly of Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church in Seattle exits the tiny house being constructed that will reside on church property.

Pastor Mark Zimmerly of Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church in Seattle exits the tiny house being constructed that will reside on church property. —Gregg Brekke


Nestled in a tree-shrouded urban neighborhood of Seattle, Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church has launched an innovative program aimed at helping alleviate homelessness in the city. Partnering with Mary’s Place, a local homeless agency, and a nearby vocational school, the congregation is expanding its ability to house and staff its own homeless shelter, Julia’s Place, by placing a tiny house on church property.

The Rev. Mark Zimmerly, co-pastor of Madrona Grace, says mission is a priority for the congregation, especially expanding mission in its own neighborhood. In addition to Julia’s Place and the tiny house project, the church boasts a small community garden, is launching a “dinner church” worshiping community, and is offering the church for use by community groups, a ministry the congregation is calling Madrona Commons.

The first home built for the tiny house ministry, known as NIMBY—Neighbor In My Back Yard—will initially house a Julia’s Place staff person. The homeless shelter currently houses six homeless families and one staff person. The tiny house on church property will allow the staff people to rotate shifts and have some time away from the shelter.

Zimmerly says the home is paid for, and funds have already been raised for a second home, which will likely be placed on a church member’s property to house a homeless individual or family.

The designs Madrona Grace is using are complete homes, but in miniature. The model under construction includes a sleeping loft; a kitchen with stove and refrigerator; a full bath with shower, sink and a composting toilet; a clothes washer and dryer; and living space—all in a highly energy efficient 131 square feet.

Depending on the features of the home, each tiny house costs between $12,000 and $20,000. The church is responsible for material costs, and the Wood Technology Center of Seattle Central College is providing all the labor, building the homes to specifications provided by the church. Zimmerly says the school is happy to have the work building tiny houses, which is an emerging industry for their graduates.

“This is a way we can continue to live out Christ’s call to us to serve those who are most in need,” says Zimmerly. “With this project, we’re trying to become more personal in our discipleship and to make it clear that Jesus calls us to make changes in our individual lives, as well as our corporate life together.”


A full description of the project goals and frequently asked questions are available on Madrona Grace Presbyterian’s website.

  1. I don't think Jesus would care who or what was parked out front of His domain. Yes, some are homeless due to their actions, but there are people who are down on their luck from no fault of their own. Take our Veterans for example, should they be denied proper housing because our government chooses not to help them. There are mothers who their husband or significant other has abandoned them. The tiny houses would give them a sense of pride and a place to call home, to have an address that they could give to a potential employer. Most homeless do not choose to be that way. To wear house them into a place where they are nothing more than a bed is not what Jesus would have done. Put yourself in their shoes and see how it feels. I am a Ruling Elder in my church and help with a program called Family Promise and as said earlier most do not choose to be homeless. WWJD ask yourself that question.

    by Deb

    April 25, 2016

  2. Mixed feelings on this issue. I certainly wouldn't want a tiny home parked on the street in front of my house; in fact, in LA County, it's illegal to even park uninhabited motorhomes there for more than a certain amount of time. Some streets in LA have several tiny homes lined up, and parking is tight in the first place. I do think the homeless are better off having a safe place to sleep and lock up their personal possessions. I'm sure there's pride in having this little space of their own. After all, in LA, they stake out territory on the sidewalks anyway. If the homes are on church property, the residents can claim sanctuary, but if they are on private property without a permit, it's probably not legal in most cities. For me, the problem is not the home itself, it's the location. Why not urge cities to set aside unused land and allow tiny homes there? Money could be raised to put in bathroom facilities which the homes do not have. I wouldn't mind the County setting aside land on my block. But not in a parking place on the street.

    by Laura Monteros

    August 12, 2015

  3. Great idea & initiative!

    by Angie

    August 12, 2015