What can a tiny house community do to help end homelessness?
When you’re first learning to ride a bike if you keep your eyes on where you are and not in front of you, you will often crash it’s only when you keep your eyes on where you’re going that you succeed. So what can a tiny house community do?
It provides a stable home; providing the security of belongings and the security of knowing where your gonna lay your head every night.
As our friends experiencing homelessness are out there in camps, sleeping on downtown streets, benches and pretty much wherever they can living life like this forces you to constantly keep your eyes on where you are. It robs you of any hope of where you’re going because it often changes nightly where you end up.
What a tiny house community can do is offer our friends stability so they can find hope. They can stop focusing on where they are and start looking forward to where they’re going. This is giving them a better success rate. Shelters are great but they are temporary solutions to an ongoing problem. A tiny house community in its whole can be a permanent solution to homelessness: providing them the needs to find trades and skills to offer jobs, providing them a sense of community, and providing them with a safe place to grow.
The idea of a tiny house community is short-term in providing transitional housing. It can be long-term in providing them with home ownership and the resources to help our friends experiencing homelessness have better long-term success. When they struggle they have a community to turn to. I understand what they’re trying to do to move the houseless off there downtown streets but moving an issue out of sight out of mind is only going to worsen their situation: adding to their problems and offering zero help!
When we began exploring the possibility of building a tiny house village in Indianapolis, one of the first people I contacted was Susie Cordi, the City-County Councillor for my district. She helped set up a meeting with another Councillor in her party. On the day of the of the meeting, we were joined by another Councillor from the other party who happened to be at the same coffee shop. This meeting started a good relationship with these and other members of the City-County Council who expressed support for our plan.
I was disappointed on Friday to see that Councillor Cordi is now one of the primary sponsors of a new proposal being introduced at the September 24 meeting of the Council that would prevent people from sitting or lying on city streets or sidewalks in downtown Indianapolis between 6 a.m. and midnight. The proponents of this bill say that part of their goal is to encourage panhandlers that are truly homeless to take advantage of the emergency shelters that are available. In the end, though, this bill is about pushing homeless people out of the downtown entertainment and business zones. It ignores the reality that many of the people who don’t go to shelters don’t go there because they either find the environment dangerous (often the case with mental illness or addicts trying to recover) or they have been banned from the only shelters available for some rule violation.
This proposal is another reason why Indianapolis needs a tiny house village as part of it’s solution to addressing homelessness. The only emergency shelter available in Indianapolis is run by faith-based organizations that strongly encourage chapel attendance as part of their program. The largest shelter now allows an alternate class for those who don’t want to participate in the chapel meeting but those classes are still taught from a particular religious perspective. Also, the institutional approach used by the shelter does not work well for people with some mental illnesses, especially schizophonia and Asperger syndrome. This proposal does nothing to provide other options for people for who the shelters do not work and simply punishes them for needing a place to rest.
Like many cities, Indianapolis has become obsessed with the Housing First model and permanent supportive housing similar to that used in Salt Lake City, UT. What they fail to remember is that it took Utah 10 years to get to the place that it could declare success in substantially reducing chronic homelessness in their city. In the meantime, people are still being moved from unauthorized camps (some 4 times in a year). This new proposal will only add insult to injury by further criminalizing life-sustaining activity by those experiencing homelessness. Instead of creating new ways to punish people, our city officials should be helping groups that want to help with practical solutions find the property they need to provide these solutions while still working toward their long-term larger plan.
Again, Indianapolis, all we are asking for is a place and permission.
The Huffington Post released a great profile of the tiny house efforts in Eugene, OR. Often critics of the tiny house movement say tiny houses are a substandard approach when compared to the permanent supportive housing apartments cities are pursuing as part of their Housing First initiatives. This video does a great job of showing how a tiny house village can be part of a city’s overall tiny house plan.
The obsession with permanent supportive housing has caused cities like Indianapolis to overlook the need for safe transitional options while they work to develop adequate apartment space to house all those experiencing homelessness. The people interviewed in this video see their current situation as an improvement on where they came from and tell how this option has helped them find dignity in their lives. Sometimes, those of us who have not experienced homelessness can get focussed on high-sounding plans to make the lives of others better while overlooking practical, small steps that can be done to move people down the path to wholeness.
Opportunity Village is the first of two villages built by Square One Villages in Eugene, OR. They are becoming one of the leading organizations in the tiny house movement. In 2014 Opportunity Village was profiled by PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. Click below to watch this story. (Note: our plan is for tiny houses that would be larger than the ones at Opportunity Village. Each unit would also have electricity and running water.)
In March 2018, Community First! was featured on the site, BEST in Austin. Click the image below to see another recent video about Community First! Village which highlights some of the people helped by moving there. We can see this happen in Indianapolis if we are willing to try.