How Tiny Houses Are Helping Curb Homelessness

I read once that home just means you belong to something — that something belongs to you. It is estimated that 553,742 Americans in 2017 in a single night were homeless, belonging to nothing. According to Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 35 percent of those homeless individuals were staying in unsheltered areas. In fact, homelessness has become one of the top challenges for social workers in the United States. Individuals and organizations are coming together all across the country to try to solve the problem of homelessness.

It has always been tough to find a way to house the homeless. Shortages of low-income housing continue to grow and continue to be a major challenge to the homeless population. In fact, for every 100 households of renters in the U.S. who are in the “extremely low income” bracket, there are only 30 affordable apartment options available.

One solution to this problem is to provide low-income individuals with affordable tiny houses. Those in need are grateful for the lockable doors on their small but effective tiny homes, which offer far more privacy than city shelters do. Instead of forcing the homeless to find a home, many private donors and local governments are simply providing them with one. Here’s how communities around the country are helping the homeless belong to something.

Housing First Initiative

The Housing First initiative is an approach that offers a permanent and affordable housing option for individuals and families that are experiencing homelessness. Services and support are provided to help those in need keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness.

This type of approach focuses on providing emergency shelters, street outreach providers, and other crisis responses.

The Housing First approach allows an individual experiencing homelessness to access permanent housing without having to address issues beyond those of a typical renter. This type of approach helps end homelessness for families that became homeless due to a temporary financial crisis. The Housing First initiative has been found as an effective approach to ending homelessness for chronically homeless individuals.

There are two types of Housing First approaches. Permanent supportive housing (PSH) is for individuals and families that experience mental health issues, chronic illnesses, substance abuse disorders, disabilities, or those who have experienced long-term or repeated bouts of homelessness. PSH combines low-barrier affordable housing, supportive services, and healthcare to help families and individuals lead more stable lives.

Rapid rehousing is the second type of Housing First approaches. It is an option designed to help individuals and families quickly exit homelessness and return to a permanent housing situation. Like PSH, there is no prerequisite for rapid rehousing. The resources available to individuals are tailored to the needs of the household.

Successful Tiny House Communities

Everywhere you look these days tiny houses are popping up, and more commonly are tiny house villages. Gregory Kloehn lives in Oakland and uses recycled materials to make tiny houses for the homeless. His concept of these homes came from the various structures built by people who live on the street. He was inspired to take found objects and create homes out of them. Unlike traditional Housing First Initiatives, when Gregory completes a home, he pushes it out onto the street, takes a few photos for his memory, and gives it away.

Orthello Village in Seattle, Washington, is the third village to be authorized by the city. It houses 28 96-square-foot tiny houses. These homes on average cost $2,200 per house for supplies, with the majority of the construction coming from volunteers. Donations from foundations, organizations, and individuals have allowed the village to install heat and electricity in the homes as well

Orthello Village shares a kitchen, shower trailer, security booth, and a donation hut on their property. The city pays to supply water, garbage services, and on-site counseling. In Orthello Village there is no fighting, drinking, or drug use allowed on site. If the rules in the community are violated, residents are kicked out and must be approved by the entire village for a second chance.

Dignity Village is both a transitional housing and an intentional community in Portland that provides year-round shelter for 60 people a night since 2001. It is the longest-existing, city-sanctioned tiny house village in the United States. Working alongside organizations like Portland’s Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), Dignity Village provides a stable, sanitary environment free of theft, drugs, alcohol, and violence for those who are temporarily or chronically homeless. The city of Portland limits each person’s stay at two years. However, villagers can actively work in leadership positions at Dignity Village for an extension to stay.

The majority of the structures are made from reclaimed and recycled materials. The purpose of Dignity Village is to provide safe housing while having a low environmental impact. Each tiny house comes with a bed and a propane heater, and very few are connected to electricity. Residents pay $35 a month to help with operating costs. The remaining operating budget comes from private donations. The village shares two sinks, one shower and several port-a-potties.

Some tiny house communities have individual showers, restrooms, and kitchenettes, while others have communal kitchens and showers. Each village is unique. Some are free, and some require a small rental fee.

How Does It Help?

Growing evidence surrounding Housing First initiatives are showing that that tiny homes are an effective solution for homelessness. By offering chronically homeless individuals a chance to lay down their roots, individuals and families are more likely to remain stably housed. PSH has a long-term retention rate of 98 percent. And studies have shown that rapid re-housing programs help people exit homelessness quickly, within an average of two months. A multitude of studies have shown that 75 to 91 percent of homeless households remained housed a year after being re-homed.

Studies on PSH have found that the majority of clients participate in optional supportive services, which helps to provide them with greater housing stability. Individuals who use these services are more likely to participate in job training programs, discontinue substance abuse, attend school, and have fewer experiences with domestic violence than those not participating.

Permanent supportive housing has been found to be cost effective. By providing access to housing, individuals are less likely to use emergency services like hospitals, jails, and emergency shelters. One study found that in two years there was an average savings on cost of emergency services totalling ~$32k per person housed in a Housing First program.

All in all, the studies show that using tiny houses to curb homelessness works. When a community comes together to lift each other up, everyone succeeds. Whether you believe it’s your problem to fix or not, it is important to ensure that we are safeguarding the vulnerable populations in our own communities.

Guest post by Avery Phillips 

Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

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