America’s Tiny House Villages for the Homeless
The debate in Los Angeles city government over what to do with the tiny houses for the homeless, being built and distributed by Elvis Summers, needs to include awareness of the nationwide experiments taking place in cities across the country in establishing small villages of these kind of structures as one additional tool in reducing homelessness. They are a transitional step between the streets and permanent housing, while permanent housing for all of the homeless remains a distant dream. This is the obvious alternative to the positions currently dominating the debate: either to leave the little houses on the streets or to destroy them and expel their residents.
No one imagines that there will be enough of these kind of shelters to end homelessness or that they would be ideal if there were. But as it sinks in that providing real homes for such multitudes is at best relegated to the far future, city councils and even the federal government are beginning to see the tiny house movement, adapted to the homeless, as contributing to getting people off the street and restoring their dignity by providing a dry, secure, stable place to live, and privacy that is impossible sleeping under a tarp in an alley.
The typical pattern for these settlements is to find a piece of land, preferably an acre or two. Some cities have used existing prefab wooden sheds, commonly 8 X 10. To work best, the place needs a central building with running water and electricity, for toilets, showers, and communal cooking. Building codes for housing are often sidestepped by classifying the villages as campgrounds or putting the houses on wheels and rating them as trailers.
At least 11 cities have such tiny house villages already in operation or under construction. The Christian Science Monitor reports: “More cities are turning to tiny homes as part of an innovative solution to curb homelessness. The latest city to join the tiny house movement is Seattle, which is preparing to open its first tiny house village, a collection of 14 petite homes built on a plot of land owned by a local Lutheran church.” (January 21, 2016)
The article quotes Lee Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as saying “It’s certainly something that we would encourage other communities to take a look at when it comes to creating solutions for housing the chronically homeless.”
Dome Village (Los Angeles, 1993-2006)
847 Golden Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles. Founded by homeless activist Ted Hayes on rented land, the complex hosted 20 geodesic domes and housed 34 people, some of them couples. Eight of the domes were for kitchens, bathrooms, laundries, and computers. The other twelve provided shelter for single individuals or families. The fiberglass domes cost $10,000 each. They were easy to repair and maintain, made of polyester fiberglass. Funding for the village was provided by the Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) oil company. This was probably the oldest and most successful of the Tiny House homeless villages, right here in our own city. It lasted 13 years and was ended only when the landlord raised the rent too high.
Dignity Village (Portland, Oregon)
NE 33rd and Sunderland, Portland, OR 97211. Founded in 2004. This began in 2000 as a tent city. Rather than disperse it, in 2001 the city found an alternate location near the airport and officially recognized the place under the State of Oregon code definition of a campground. It now houses 60 homeless people, some in home-built wooden mini houses and others in tents. The property includes showers, sanitary facilities, private and communal food and flower gardens, and communal cooking and refrigeration facilities.
Dignity Village is incorporated in Oregon as a 501(c)(3) membership-based non-profit organization. Its rules require: No violence toward yourself or others. No illegal substances or alcohol or paraphernalia on the premises or within a one-block radius. No stealing. No disruptive behavior. All members are required to contribute to the upkeep.
Opportunity Village (Square One Villages) (Eugene, Oregon)
111 N. Garfield St., Eugene, OR 97402. Opened in August 2013 as a “transitional micro-housing” pilot project. It has about 30 individuals and couples. It is overseen by the nonprofit Square One Villages. It includes toilet and laundry facilities and a communal kitchen. The houses are 60 to 80 square feet. Initial cost for the whole place was $98,000 plus donated labor. Operating costs are around $1,800/month.
The one-year pilot project has since been renewed for a two-year extension by an 8-0 City Council vote. It has 5 basic rules: No violence. No theft. No alcohol or illegal drugs on-site. No persistent, disruptive behavior. And everyone must contribute to the operation and maintenance of the village.
Quixote Village (Olympia, Washington)
3350 Mottman Rd SW, Olympia, WA 98512. Like Dignity Village in Portland, Quixote Village began as a tent camp. After six years it moved at the end of 2013 to its current location of 2.17 acres, where there are 30 tiny houses (144 square feet) for 30 homeless adults. There is a community building which has bathrooms, showers, a kitchen and dining room. There is a vegetable garden.
It is a self-governing community overseen by the Panza nonprofit. There are two full-time staff, a program manager for operations and a case manager who helps residents get social services.
Second Wind Cottages (Newfield, New York)
1435 Elmira Rd, Newfield, NY 14867. Newfield is a short drive from Ithaca. The cottages are on the property of an auto mechanic and devout Christian named Carmen Guidi. There are six cottages at a cost of $12,000 to $15,000 each. Guidi raised $150,000 and got volunteers to build the cottages to provide housing for homeless men from a nearby tent camp. Guidi plans to build 12 more cottages, then found a second village for women. The cottages, untypically for such camps, have running water, electricity, and a stove. Svante Myrick, the mayor of Ithaca, is reported quoted as saying, “If we can take the model and replicate what we can—that is, small stand-alone shelters, instead of mass sheltering where it’s hard to keep folks safe and in some cases it’s hard to keep them sober, giving them units where they can actually have a space of their own, that’s warm and secure—I think that’s a model that certainly can be replicated.”
Occupy Madison Village (Madison, Wisconsin)
304 N. Third St, Madison, Wisconsin 53704. The smallest of the tiny house communities, it contains only three little houses and a former gas station that now serves as bathroom, kitchen, office, and a woodworking shop. The houses, built by volunteers, are 98 square feet and have electric heat. Residents must do 32 hours of work in order to move in. They then must work 10-hours per week till they have 500 hours total. Once residents have “paid-off” their homes they must still contribute 10-hours per week to the maintenance of the village.
Village of Hope (Fresno, CA)
412 F Street, Fresno, CA 93706. Established in 2004 by the Poverello House nonprofit. It claims it can provide 124 beds per night in volunteer-built 8-by-10-foot wooden sheds. There are two cots per shed. They do not have electricity or running water. The sheds have solar powered lights. The village uses porta-potties. This place is run more like a traditional shelter but with semiprivate sleeping quarters. Residents are required to leave the sheds at 8:00 am and not return until 5:00 or 6:00 pm. No alcohol or drugs are permitted. Residents are allowed to have pets, but the housing is considered temporary, not long-term.
River Haven (Ventura, California)
Harbor Boulevard near Olivas Park Drive, Ventura, CA. Established in 2009. River Haven has 19 modular U Domes that can house 25 people. It is funded and operated by the Turning Point Foundation and is part of Ventura County’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. River Haven is an outgrowth of a previous tent community that had existed since 2004. U Domes are sold by the World Shelters company. The U Dome 200 has a diameter of 16 feet and interior of 200 square feet. They sell for $2,495 each. The U Dome 120 has a diameter of 120 feet at a lower price.
Residents are allowed to stay for two years, during which they must obtain a source of income and look for permanent housing. The use of drugs and alcohol within 100 yards of the camp is prohibited. The managing foundation provides case management.
Community First Village (Austin, Texas)
9301 Hog Eye Road, Austin, TX 78724. A 27-acre project built in 2014 by the Mobile Loaves and Fishes outreach ministry. It houses, long-term, more than 200 homeless persons. It consists of 125 units which are a mix of tiny houses (144 to 180 sq feet) and 12 X 12 canvas-sided cottages. The houses rent for $210 a month, the canvas cottages for $180. Both have electricity. There are also lots for 100 RVs and 12 sites to pitch teepees. There are outdoor kitchens and communal shower, bathroom, and laundry facilities. The village includes a community garden, bee hive, and a large chicken coop. The property includes a machine and woodworking shop. There is on-site medical and hospice care.
Tiny house village (Seattle, Washington)
2116 East Union Street, Seattle, Washington, 98122. Opened in January 2016. It contains 14 tiny houses. They are 8 X 12 feet and insulated. It was created by the Low Income Housing Institute in coordination with the city of Seattle and the Nickelsville homeless camp. The move was prompted by the death of 45 homeless people in Seattle streets in 2015. The mayor declared a state of emergency on homelessness in November 2015. Several other homeless camps and parking lots for the homeless have been officially approved by the city government.
The little houses have electricity and oil heat. Bathrooms with flush toilets and showers with hot and cold water are in a central building. Each house can sleep up to a family of three, so the village can house 42 people at maximum. Drugs and alcohol are prohibited but the residents will run the community. Residents must pay a $90 per month utility fee. Case management will be provided. Each house costs about $2,200 to build – paid for by donations and built by volunteers. Residents are allowed to stay until they find permanent housing.
Infinity Village (Nashville, Tennesee)
146 Green Street, Nashville, Tennessee 37210 (the Green Street Church of Christ). Opened in August 2015. So far, there are 6 tiny houses, each 5-by-12 and 60 square feet. This is a project of Pastor Jeff Obafemi Carr, who built the houses with the help of 11 volunteers. He has thus far raised $67,000 with a GoFundMe appeal. The little houses are on wheels, have no bathroom or kitchen, but do have electricity, to power a mini fridge and air conditioning. They contain a pull-down bed. Pastor Carr plans to build 19 more. The houses cost about $7,000 each. Residents use bathrooms in the church, and shower outside with a hose.
Santa Rosa, California
In December the Sonoma County, California, Board of Supervisors allocated $75,000 to explore locations to begin a two-year pilot project by constructing 8 to 12 tiny houses for the homeless. If successful they said they were considering expanding the project to between 40 and 70 such houses and possibly opening additional tiny house villages. They began a review of six potential sites in Santa Rosa, the county’s largest city. In its January 3, 2016, issue the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that the county Board of Supervisors had settled on a 10,000-square-foot lot at Paulin Drive and Fiscal Drive, northwest of the intersection of Mendocino Avenue and Chanate Road. The newspaper wrote:
“Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who is spearheading the project, argued that the shelters can help boost the local housing stock faster than other affordable housing developments and provide much-needed units for homeless people in a time of crisis. ‘We have a dire supply-and-demand problem,’ Zane said. ‘Rents are going up … threatening not only homeless people who want to get into housing, but people who are just one paycheck away from becoming homeless.’” Sonoma has over 3,000 homeless, with 2,000 of them sleeping outside.