Earth & Conservation

Can Tiny Homes Solve Homelessness In The U.S.?

Teenagers in Seattle design and build custom tiny homes for a local homeless encampment. How does it impact the lives of the residents?

Homelessness is an epidemic plaguing cities all over the world. Many communities are at a loss for how to successfully help their homeless population, but Nickelsville in Seattle is an exception.

Nickelsville is the largest homeless encampment in the city, but it's also one of the most unique homeless encampments in the world. Part of the encampment includes an area with custom built tiny homes. Youth volunteers build the tiny homes through a program called Sawhorse Revolution.

Sawhorse is mutually beneficial because the young people who volunteer learn how to design a home as well as valuable carpentry skills, all while servicing their community in a big way. Nghi Quan, a Sophomore at Franklin High School in Seattle, told Seeker about the extent of her knowledge after participating in the program, "...if you dropped me on an island, I'll probably be able to make a shelter for myself and probably make my own tools."

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Sarah Smith is the program director for Sawhorse Revolution and she says the program always tries to emphasize the fact that homelessness doesn't define who you are as a person. "One of the big things we stress in the program is that homelessness is a point-in-time event. It's not a result of who you are. So homelessness is something that happens to you," she told Seeker. They see all different types of people come to the encampment, from families with children, to single men and single women.

Seattle isn't the only U.S. city to jump on the tiny home for the homeless trend either. In northern California, Sonoma County is going full-speed ahead with their plans for a tiny home for the homeless village. Shirlee Zane, Sonoma County Supervisor, headed the creation of what will soon be a dozen tiny homes with up to 24 residents.

"Here, people will get their self-respect back," Zane told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They can move in, get connected with counseling, better health, job help - and then move into more permanent housing. But in the meantime, they can have four walls they call their own."

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Similar tiny homes for the homeless projects are popping up in Tennessee, New York, Oregon, North Carolina and Texas as well. Some of these are taking after the Sawhorse Revolution program in Seattle, in which the encampment is also an active community. Everyone they bring into the Nickelsville tiny homes is required to do community service within the encampment and they aren't permitted to use substances of any kind (other than caffeine).

Brian Twomey is a resident here and he sees Nickelsville as a great opportunity to help him transition back into a stable life. "I've got a place to stay, I can participate in the encampment, doing my security shifts. And it's a way for me to save money, so I can get that first and last deposit and get back into an apartment," he told Seeker.

In many ways, tiny homes are a perfect fit for the homeless community. They're generally inexpensive, easy and fast to build, and most importantly, they provide warmth and shelter for those who would otherwise be living on the street.

-- Molly Fosco