Scott Donovan was in a bad place.
Donovan, 50, had been homeless for about five years, sleeping outside a recycling place in Livermore. He lived day to day, thinking mainly about his safety and what he could eat that day.
“I was not in good shape. Not in a good place in life,” he said.
That changed when a Livermore police officer who knew Donovan took him to Goodness Village — a tiny home program serving the formerly unhoused population in the Tri-Valley — for an interview. He moved into his new home there in 2021.
“It was really odd at first because I’m not used to people treating me with respect, caring about me for no reason,” Donovan said. “The village completely changed my life. … It’s just the best place I could ever imagine.”
Now, Donovan is focused not on wondering where his next meal will come but on building a small art business he started with his partner Tiffany Bailey, also a resident at the village. They began painting together at a picnic table on the grounds of Goodness Village before clearing out a small, cramped space inside an old barn on the property and turning it into an art studio.
They call their venture Fresh Start Art, which began through the village’s creative arts program.
“I can’t draw a stick figure, but I can paint pretty good with the fluid acrylics,” Donovan said, adding that Bailey is the more artistic one of the duo. “It’s an amazing feeling when we can spend a couple hours and come out with some gorgeous paintings.”
Through the East Bay Times’ annual Share the Spirit campaign that highlights nonprofits serving our most vulnerable communities, Goodness Village hopes to raise $10,000. The organization plans to turn the barn into a community center that will include a creative space for the village’s residents to gather and explore their talents. The money will be used for tables, storage and art supplies for the new creative area.
The current art studio in the old barn — where paints and supplies are also stored — is exposed to the elements and can fluctuate from bitterly cold to uncomfortably warm temperatures. And then there’s the critters who find their way in, too.
“There’s a lot of bugs around, and having (the new place) would alleviate that,” Donovan said. “We have tweezers, and pretty much every painting we’re picking them off the acrylic paint. They’re just attracted to it like crazy.”
“Kitty cat footprints,” Bailey added, laughing.
Goodness Village has been open since June 2021 and was born out of program founder and director Kim Curtis’ experience over the past 20 years working with chronically homeless individuals. Curtis specializes in mental health and substance use disorders, and she said the nonprofit works with people with higher levels of need and who require 24-hour support to maintain their housing. Most of the residents had been unsheltered for more than five years.
The village’s tiny homes — 28 single-occupancy, climate-controlled units that each run about 160 square feet and have bathrooms and kitchenettes — are in good repair in contrast to the old dairy barn. Twenty-eight people live in the village, which sits on the grounds of the CrossWinds Church. Curtis noted there are no religious requirements to be eligible to live there.
“I’ve always provided services to those that they identify as hardest to serve,” said Curtis, whose last job was at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. “And it’s never been my experience that they’re the hardest to serve. I find that if you treat people with respect and dignity, and you follow through on what you said you’re going to do … you’re going to get that in return.”
The organization’s goal is to provide a space for formerly unhoused people to recover, Curtis said. There’s no time limit on their stay at Goodness Village, which provides support and case managers on-site. The village caters to an older population on fixed incomes: about half of the residents are over 50 years old and are expected to have extended stays.
For others who are on waiting lists for housing through a voucher program or other means, the nonprofit aims to help prepare them to live independently.
“How do you navigate paying all those bills?” Curtis said. “How do you navigate new relationships with neighbors and that shared wall? Transportation? Where’s your food? How is all that coming into play as they transition out? We don’t want anyone that leaves here to ever enter homelessness again.”
Bailey, 38, was homeless for about a year before moving into a tiny home at Goodness Village in 2021. Before that, she was living behind a grocery store in Livermore. She knew Donovan before — “I had the biggest crush on him” — but they were only good friends before becoming partners after moving into the village.
She took to acrylic painting last year and pursued the craft with Donovan, creating colorful abstract pieces that can resemble ocean currents or a human spine. Now, the two show and sell their pieces at farmers markets, church events and holiday boutiques. They’re also looking to expand online and get into teaching. Sharing their craft, Bailey said, can help other residents at Goodness Village explore their passions.
“You have to understand, people that have been homeless for 10, 15 years, they don’t know where to start,” Bailey said. “Just having a home is a big deal. Then they see someone take off, or someone who gets a job. They’re like, ‘Wow, how did you do that?’ They’re really excited about it, because then they start thinking, ‘Well, maybe I can.’ ”
The pair debated their business name for a while, Bailey said. When “Fresh Start Art” was proposed, it was an instant hit with the couple and Curtis, the Goodness Village director.
“Because we got a fresh start and a fresh start at something new that we didn’t even think to explore,” Bailey said of how they came up with the name. “A fresh start at a different lifestyle. A different life.”
Share the Spirit
The Share the Spirit holiday campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, provides relief, hope and opportunities for East Bay residents by helping raise money for nonprofit programs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
How to help
Goodness Village will use donations to support a creative arts space in the organization’s planned building of a community center. The money will fund tables, storage and art supplies. Goal: $10,000