Visions of Home

Joppa Outreach takes a visionary approach to homelessness in Des Moines.

According to a 2012 report, over 16,000 Iowans were homeless and nearly 20,000 more were at risk of homelessness that year. In central Iowa, that translates to about 1,000 people every day who have nowhere to live or even sleep.

Emergency shelters and transitional housing facilities have attempted to address this need for decades with varying degrees of success. But in the Des Moines area, those facilities only offer a total of 750 beds.

That means 250 people in central Iowa every day have no option available to them.

But across the country, creative solutions are seeing very real results. And Joppa Outreach, a Des Moines-based nonprofit, has a vision to translate the most innovative of those ideas into reality for the homeless community right here in Des Moines.

Its website states, “Joppa has studied successful models in other cities and is leading a collaborative effort to create practical alternatives for housing to effectively end homelessness in central Iowa.” Joppa Villages, two communities of tiny homes, will provide transitional and permanent housing to help homeless individuals restore their lives.

“When we first started researching the tiny home concept three years ago, there were 25 in operation across the U.S., some in existence for as long as 15 years,” says Joppa Outreach founder Joe Stevens. “We really expect this concept to go mainstream. It’s achieving results that other homeless programs haven’t.”

Stevens says the solution is simple in concept—to provide safe places for everyone, to offer a tangible way out, and to build affordable housing—but complicated to execute.

“We have the initial community and the home plans drawn up. We know the criteria that need to be met to serve the homeless community,” Stevens notes. “But the complexity of the surrounding issues makes it difficult. It becomes more of a policy issue. So a good portion of our work becomes educating the public.”

During a Homelessness Coordinating Council meeting where Joppa was advocating for the homeless, former Des Moines City Manager Rick Clark challenged the group to come up with a tangible solution to address homelessness in central Iowa.

Stevens says, “He recognized the need. But he also recognized that without a fundamental, practical plan, nothing would change.”

So Joppa began researching how other cities were addressing the homeless problem across the country, and the vision of Joppa Villages was born. Joppa has partnered with BSB Design to create two separate villages that will help Des Moines’ homeless population transition to contributing members of the greater-Des Moines community.

Architect Steve Moore of BSB says, “We had a business relationship with Joe, unrelated to Joppa, when he approached us to help communicate his vision to the city: to put that village concept on paper and demonstrate how the land plan and the houses all fit together.”

BSB’s own efforts to address unique housing needs in Africa provided the ideal background to partner with Joppa. Moore explains, “About 10 years ago, in honor of the 50th anniversary of BSB, we began a project inspired by one of the company’s founding tenets—that every family deserves to live in a home designed by an architect. We were challenged to design a house that could replace the makeshift homes in African shanty towns. The goal was to create a plan that could be built in a day by one family and cost less than $2,000.”

BSB came up with a design, the Abod, which successfully achieved that goal (although the price tag is still above $2,000). The company has partnered with several charities to build Abods in a number of locations in Africa and is currently looking into domestic applications.

“When Joe asked us to help him put his tiny house village on paper, we were thrilled to be a part of it,” Moore adds. “We’re here to help him realize his vision and are committed to partner with him until it’s done. It’s an unconventional problem, and he has found an unconventional solution that deserves to be put into action.”

Stevens says, “BSB has done some amazing work with the Abod designs And its expertise designing high-end communities that are ahead of the curve in the understanding of the neighborhood concept—all that background has been put into the plans for Joppa Villages. Most villages around the country don’t have that sense of extra dignity and beauty that comes from living in a planned gated community with homes designed by architects and finished by interior designers. We want to create something very special for central Iowa.”

Since its inception in 2009, Joppa Outreach has sought to go beyond the emergency approach to homeless assistance. “We started out, my wife and son and I, just going out and trying to make connections with the homeless population, finding out what they needed, and trying to meet those immediate needs,” says Stevens. “But we just kept discovering more, and it became too costly to do on our own.”

So Joppa Outreach was formed to build relationships, provide care, and be a voice and advocate for the homeless in the Des Moines area.

With Joppa Villages, as with all of Joppa’s efforts, the goal is to offer more than triage care. “We’re really aiming for something special,” Stevens says. “We want to do more than just give people a place to sleep. We want to address the underlying needs and create homes and communities that restore dignity to lives.”

To do that, Joppa’s plan includes two separate villages—a transitional housing village and a permanent residence village (see “Joppa Villages Concept”). These, combined with Joppa’s existing services of job development and staffing, aftercare, and advocacy, will enable as many as 50 people each year to overcome the barriers that lead to homelessness.

“The challenge for us was to design homes and communities that met Joppa’s criteria for transitional and permanent housing. The challenge for Joppa, now, is to help the community and the city understand this vision. It means redefining what a ‘house’ is and reinterpreting city planning philosophies,” Moore says.

Stevens agrees. “People have preconceived notions about the homeless and what a so-called ‘homeless village’ means to the community. But if they understood what we’re doing, if they saw the results other cities have achieved and how these communities have benefited everyone, neighborhoods would be clamoring to have Joppa Villages built in their area.”

Historically, the city of Joppa was a place of refuge, the community with the first recorded outreach effort.

The vision of Joppa Villages carries on that ministry today.

Joppa Villages Concept

Transitional Village:
  • Planned community of 96-square-foot transitional shelters
  • Tiny home “micro communities” built around a central hub
  • Private showers, bathrooms, and laundry facilities in central location
  • Central meal and community center
  • Shared recreation area
  • Community gardens
  • Required volunteer commitment within community
Permanent Village:
  • Planned community of permanent homes
  • Sustainable 12×16-foot tiny homes
  • Individual, self-sufficient homes
  • Full home with kitchen and bath
  • Monthly rental agreement for residents
  • Potential long-term residency
  • Offers pride of ownership and self-sufficiency

Share the vision!

The future projects will include architectural competitions for the permanent homes, educational builds for high school construction trades students, and daylong build projects to construct the transitional homes.

But you can get involved in the Joppa Villages project now.

  • Donate time and construction skills
  • Donate materials
  • Lead a construction crew on a build day
  • Join the Joppa Build Team
  • Join the effort to locate and develop land for Villages
  • Host a fund-raising day with model home on-site for tours

For more information about these activities or to learn about other ways to support the Joppa Outreach effort, visit or connect via