Communities Confront Homelessness with Tiny Homes Projects


Time-lapse video of Tiny Houses being built at sustainability park in Denver by Denver Homeless Out Loud and then being destroyed by Denver Police.

As bureaucracy continues to push an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach, local communities around the nation have stepped in and taken the initiative to tackle the major humanitarian crisis of homelessness.

Often those who become homeless are people who have survived major trauma or those who suffer from various forms of mental illness and can no longer be functioning members of society . Many who then medicate themselves through various addictions to deal with the day to day life they live.

The homeless crisis has continued to escalate in the United States since the scrapping of the Federal Mental Health Systems Act in 1980, leading to many mentally ill patients being dumped on the streets, leaving the responsibilities in the hands of local communities who have routinely responded with jail as the only answer.

Beginning back in 2013 with the successful Occupy Madison, Wisconson Tiny Homes for the Homeless project. Occupy Madison (OM) established a nine tiny home village that was opened for occupancy in November of 2014, with all of the legalities required in place.

Despite the neighborhood complaints and concerns leading up to the launch of the OM tiny homes project, many neighboring residents now realize their fears were unfounded. A review of housing assessments, home sales, and police calls also found no evidence so far of the dire consequences critics predicted for the surrounding neighborhood.

Occupy Madison Tiny Home Village

Occupy Madison Tiny Home Village

Homeowner Chad Barnes, who’s front porch offers a view of the OM tiny village told the State Journal recently “I think a lot of the resistance was a knee-jerk reaction, a ‘not-in-my-backyard’ reaction, and I had it at first, too,” said Barnes, 38, who signed a petition to fight the idea but has now changed his mind. “I think it’s actually added value to the neighborhood.”

In extensive interviews with neighbors, many of whom initially fought the tiny village idea, the State Journal heard many similar comments and almost unanimous praise for the first year of the social experiment.

In the past year, concerned citizens began Tiny Homes projects in Los Angeles and Oakland California, Nashville Tennessee, Savanah Georgia and most recently Denver Colorado.

In Los Angeles, Elvis Summers began building tiny homes on wheels about the size of a parking space when he noticed a woman in her 60’s sleeping in the dirt of his neighborhood. Despite the initial support that helped to raise over 50,000 to help build more tiny homes, the mobile tiny homes residents are still fighting against the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ legal bureaucracy as Councilman Joe Buscaino stated “These wooden shacks are not the real estate I’m looking for in my district.” Yet Elvis Summers plans to continue to build tiny homes and says he is prepared to take the city to court if they were to confiscate the tiny homes.

In Savanah, Georgia a group of soldiers from Fort Steward began constructing tiny homes for veterans in the Savannah area. A project to not only help returning soldiers acquire construction building skills, but to also house soldiers who are often traumatized from service and now caught up in lives of various addictions.

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In Nashville, Tennessee the Green Street Church allowed a group of homeless men to pitch tents on the church’s property, skirting any legality of city zoning ordinances. On the grounds of Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, Green Street church has continued to carry out its mission and is now erecting tiny homes on the property. There are currently six tiny homes and a total of 20 people residing in what’s now referred to as The Sanctuary.

Here’s a tiny home in Nashville’s Infinity Village; each measures 6′ x 10.’

Here’s a tiny home in Nashville’s Infinity Village; each measures 6′ x 10.’

Yesterday in Denver, Colorado a group of dedicated volunteers, Denver Homeless Out Loud began construction of what they dubbed as Resurrection Village (after the similarly named tent city which Martin Luther King Jr’s Poor People’s Human Rights Campaign built in Washington DC), a tiny home village built by and for people without housing.

Volunteers came out to Sustainability Park in the Curtis Park neighborhood of Denver to build a tiny home village where three urban farms are currently being displaced to build an apartment development, and wherein 1999 hundreds of residents were evicted from low-income housing on the site.

By 9 pm, with a police helicopter circling overhead, the officers made the arrests and Denver Public Works destroyed, threw into dump trucks, and carted away the homes that had been so badly needed by houseless people and so lovingly constructed by those who would have lived there and their supporters.  An outlandish and very expensive response by SWAT, Gang Units, militarized police, and a police helicopter that hovered above the encampment for an hour or more were all involved in last night’s raid.

Little Denver Informational and Fundraising VideoCheck out our new video about Little Denver, the initiative to build tiny homes for, with, and by folks without housing.Stay tuned for the upcoming launch of our crowdfunding campain to build more of these houses. It takes a village!

Posted by Denver Homeless Out Loud on Sunday, October 4, 2015

In an excerpt from the Denver Homeless Outloud’s press release:

The urban farmers collaborative did not know or consent to our plans to build a tiny home village and stay on this land. We simply decided this land must be for affordable homes and for the people and that we cannot wait for permission.

We are in a housing crisis. Denver’s record high rents and lack of affordable housing–the Auditor’s office has estimated a shortfall of 26,000 units–have literally left us out in the cold. We have to exist somewhere. Because there are no suitable options for those of us who work low-wage jobs, are unable to work, or can’t find work, we have decided to create options for ourselves. Tiny homes are an inexpensive, ecologically conscious, tangible and dignified alternative to living outside or trying to hustle a spot in the overcrowded shelters. Tiny home villages–such as Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon–have been used across the country to provide a solution to homelessness that works. The first community of its kind, Dignity Village was founded in 2001 and provides housing for 60 formerly homeless residents. While it costs $20.92 a night in Portland to house an individual in an emergency shelter, Dignity Village can house the same person for only $4.28.

We are in a crisis of humanity. In Denver and all across the country, laws have been passed that make it illegal to conduct necessary acts of survival, including lying down and protecting oneself from the elements with anything other than one’s clothing. When you lose your housing in Denver and have to live in public space, you are no longer respected as a human being with basic rights. You are continually “moved along,” harassed, ticketed, incarcerated, and treated as less than human due to being homeless.

Despite their good intentions, the encampment was raided and destroyed by police last night. A dump truck was brought to the site and the tiny homes were demolished and hauled away.

Last night, Saturday, Oct 24th, about 70 Denver Police Department and Denver Sheriff’s Department officers, including swat units, under orders from Mayor Michael Hancock, descended on Sustainability Park and arrested 10 community members who, along with many others, were in the process of setting up a tiny home village to be occupied and managed by houseless people. The arrests, on charges of trespassing, were followed by the destruction and removal of several tiny homes which the group had constructed for houseless community members to live in. The group, led by Denver Homeless Out Loud and composed of houseless people and supporters, had been constructing tiny homes and trying to find a location for the village for over a year. But due to zoning and code constraints they have not been able to find a legal place to put the houses.

An often overlooked yet surprisingly simple approach to ending homelessness for good was adopted by the state of Utah. Legislators did the previously unthinkable shocking act of giving homes to the homeless.

The 2004-05 decision spawned what has been perhaps the nation’s most successful — and radical — program to end chronic homelessness. In 2005, Utah had nearly 1,932 chronically homeless. By 2014, that number had dropped 72 percent to 539 and is approaching a functional zero. The state saves $8,000 per homeless person in annual expenses amounting to millions of dollars saved in the past decade. The Salt Lake district began to experiment with the program in 2008, which it calls permanent supportive housing. And in the first three years, the District added more than 1,200 new units. In 2010 alone, nearly 600 were built. But since, that number has plummeted. In 2012, only 121 were built. 

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