A tiny house for Ruby: Irondale Church hopes to answer Ruby Mohn's prayers for decent housing, indoor plumbing

Allison Arthur The Leader
Posted 7/12/16

Ruby Mohn sits on a green plastic chair between her past and her future on her small lot at the end of a dirt road in Irondale.

To her left is a red 1940s bus, which she got for free and paid $250 …

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A tiny house for Ruby: Irondale Church hopes to answer Ruby Mohn's prayers for decent housing, indoor plumbing

Posted

Ruby Mohn sits on a green plastic chair between her past and her future on her small lot at the end of a dirt road in Irondale.

To her left is a red 1940s bus, which she got for free and paid $250 to have hauled to her property. She's been living in the bus for eight years, taking up residence there after her dome-shaped house burned.

To her right is a 10-by-20-foot wooden platform, protected under a blue tarp, on which the Irondale Church aims to build a "tiny home" for her, hopefully before winter comes.

Mohn is in awe that people from the church, located less than a mile from her property, are coming to help. She admits she prayed last winter that her outdoor toilet – which sits out behind the bus – wouldn't freeze up. It didn't.

“I prayed about it. I didn't want my toilet to freeze. God answered my prayers,” she says.

The plan for the tiny home includes indoor plumbing.

“You know, it's not like a big church. They're all my neighbors,” she says, rattling off names and pointing to where they all live, down there a few blocks, over there, back here.

Her connection to the church began last winter when her twin sister came to visit. Her sister took her to Irondale Church to sing and to remember their roots growing up in the Church of God. Her sister went back to Seattle; Mohn kept attending services.

“I don't fall asleep with Pastor David [Hoggin]. My dad used to put me to sleep,” Mohn said of her father, who also was a preacher.

Mohn then started going to Community Soup, a free event on Tuesdays at the church. Church members noticed her.

“We learned that she had a pretty good voice and we invited her to sing,” says John Jamison, a church elder.

Jamison and others also noticed that Mohn didn't appear to be able to keep herself clean.

“It appeared she may not have access to shower facilities,” he says.

And that's true enough, Mohn notes.

Taking baths isn't so easy in a bathtub that is, as Mohn likes to put it, “alfresco.” The bathtub and toilet are outside in a wood-slat shelter that isn't enclosed but has blankets draped over it for privacy. She builds a small bonfire under one end of the bathtub to get the water hot.

Lately though, she's been doing her laundry and taking showers at the church, and that's been a comfort. She likes showers.

The friends she's made at the church also have been a comfort.

She ended up watching the Super Bowl with Hoggin and his wife, Colleen.

“It was so comfortable and cozy,” she recalls of being inside a warm house that day.

As for the little house that's taking shape under the blue tarp, she says, “I have a hard time imagining it. It's going to be different to be in a home with a bathroom inside.”

THE SPAGHETTI FEED

Jamison is hoping to raise $2,000 at a spaghetti feed taking place from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, July 16 at Irondale Church. The money would be used to buy lumber to enclose the tiny house.

“I'd like to get it shelled up, and then we can get her bathroom and shower moved in. She heats with wood. We'd be putting in a new chimney in and making it right,” Jamison explains.

Jamison is a former Chimacum High School math teacher. He keeps crunching numbers and looking for what he admits are “out of the box” ideas to improve the living conditions of people in Jefferson County.

Jamison has made presentations to groups interested in housing and has motivated a number of investors to start looking into helping low-income people buy affordable homes. Jamison says that after the Leader wrote about his efforts in January 2016 to help a Chimacum School District bus driver secure funding for a home, a lot of people stepped forward to offer kitchen cabinets, refrigerators, windows, all kinds of things.

“There were a lot of donations that came in for Lisa [Walsh] that we're still using,” he says.

Windows and a shower donated for Walsh may end up in Mohn's little house.

Jamison is not having trouble finding help when he asks for it.

“We have two professional carpenters who will volunteer and the rest of us will do whatever they tell us to do,” he says.

Watching Mohn come back into joy has made Jamison happy.

A BIGGER VISION

Jamison admits he has a bigger vision than Mohn's little house.

“The state of Washington leads the nation in housing costs, and Jefferson County leads the state,” he says. “We have other people in [Community] Soup and in the church who have housing needs.”

“We have lots in Irondale that are unusable, and if we could build tiny homes, it would help,” he says.

Jamison knows he's butting up against rules that, in effect, say, “You can't do that here.”

“I'm finding it difficult to go through the hoops. I would like to come up with an out-of-the box plan for these properties. There have to be changes in the [county land-use] code to make this happen. But it's not rocket science,” he says.

Jamison says it's his understanding that a 200-square-foot house on a platform like the one he's building doesn't require permits.

He notes that Mohn does have running water and an approved two-bedroom septic system.

At one point, Mohn had a two-story, six-sided dome home on her property. It burned in 2005 after her dog knocked over a propane heater.

It's been challenging for her to find a home ever since then. She's lived in a van for a short time on property off Hidden Trails Road. And she lived in a cabover camper that she's now disassembling.

Years ago, she lived in a three-bedroom home, with a flush toilet, off 10th Avenue in Port Hadlock. She didn't like the property because she smelled exhaust from cars all the time and found garbage in the dirt, which had been deposited there by people over the years.

“I'm a gardener, so that was hard. That house is still there. It looks haunted, but that's where I raised my kids,” she says of bygone days, indoor-plumbing days.

“This is nice here. It's by [Chimacum] creek, and I don't smell exhaust,” she says of her lot, where she grows peaches, apples, cherries, raspberries, roses, potatoes, huckleberries and nettles, too.

For now, she's off the power grid, not connected to electricity because she can't afford it.

Mohn does run her VCR and DVD by electricity – from a cable that runs over the fence to a friend's home next door.

Mohn works as much as she can. She's been a baker, a caregiver and a cook. She currently has a part-time job in Port Townsend.

Mohn is hoping that her sister comes to the spaghetti feed so they can sing together like they used to when they were young.

MEETING THE NEED

As for Jamison, he admits that the church is hard-pressed to meet all the needs it's aware of.

“We have two members who are living in abandoned cars now,” Jamison says.

While he was selling tickets to the feed, he recalls, a number of people said they were a bit jealous because they'd like to live in tiny homes, too.

“We are only a church of 40 members,” he says.

“This is just a trial with Ruby,” he says. “We're hoping this isn't the last.”

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