Tiny House villages are being developed across the country to give homeless people a sense of safety and security. They are small, energy-efficient homes that include a bed, furniture, and bathroom. The homes can be placed on private properties, or in empty lots, and can be mobilized at any time. In addition, the affordable rent of a tiny home combats ever-growing gentrification.
In the course of one year, about 1.5 million people will experience homelessness in the US. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authorities, approximately 58,000 people in Los Angeles are homeless and resort to living in cars, campers, tents, or on the streets. To help the city’s homeless population, tiny-house builder Elvis Summers, who has spent more than two years building tiny homes, recruited over 100 fourth- and fifth-grade children to aid his mission. Through a crowd-funding website GoFundMe, Summers raised $28,386 and has built around 42 houses so far. Around 135 children have been involved with the project, working in shifts over a year.
Villages have found support in other areas like Second Wind Cottages (New Fields, NY), Community First Village (Austin, TX), CASS Community Tiny Homes (Detroit, MI), and the founding location, Dignity Village (Portland, OR), and others. BLOCK Project is a new nonprofit that aims to house the homeless in high-quality cottages in the backyards of Seattle homes. Challenging the notion that homelessness equates with anti-social behavior or crime, they work closely with social service agencies matching tenants to homeowners and provide ongoing support after a tenant moves in.
Despite these successes, some communities have been critical of housing previously-homeless people in tiny homes. For example, in San Jose, California, the nation’s richest city, a public hearing last August turned contentious when hundreds of residents turned up to discuss tiny houses as solutions for as many as 3,000 homeless who live in cars or sleep on city streets because shelters can accommodate only about 1,000. The city was considering constructing 200 units, including 70-80 square foot homes for single persons, and 120 square foot homes for couples, spread across the city’s 180 square miles. The proposal was meant as a temporary measure until a long-term solution could be found. According to the Guardian, “One San Jose woman said she opposed the shelters because of possible negative impacts on owls and elk. One man made an obscure reference to A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century satirical essay that advocated for poor Irish people to escape poverty by selling their children as food to the rich. The man suggested – probably also satirically – that San Jose consume its homeless population,” the Guardian reported.
Despite criticism and opposition, the tiny house movement continues to offer a small solution to the larger issue of homelessness and poverty across the country. By providing support for the homeless who are often excluded from society, the Tiny House Movement also gives rise to communities coming together and making a difference.
Most corporate media coverage was critical of the movement, citing health and safety problems. USA Today published a story on the plans to build a tiny house village for the homeless in Reno, Nevada. Tiny homes in Ashland, Oregon, were covered by NBC and ABC corporate subsidiaries at the local level. NBC News also covered the tiny house movement in Texas.
Jane Ross, “California School Children Help Build Tiny Homes for LA’s Homeless,” Reuters, August 28, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-homeless-tinyhouses/california-school-children-help-build-tiny-homes-for-las-homeless-idUSKCN1B902Y.
Jenny Xie, “10 Tiny House Villages for The Homeless across the U.S.,” Curbed, July 18, 2017, https://www.curbed.com/maps/tiny-houses-for-the-homeless-villages.
Tess Sohngen, “LA Students Are Building Tiny Houses for People Experiencing Homelessness,” Global Citizen, September 1, 2018, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/la-students-buildings-houses-for-homelessness/.
Valerie Schloredt, “Would You Put a Tiny House for a Homeless Person in your Backyard?” YES! Magazine, November 16, 2017, http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/solidarity/would-you-put-a-tiny-house-for-a-homeless-person-in-your-backyard-20171116.
Student Researcher: Nicholas J. Elias (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)