Tiny Houses For The Homeless: How To Help & Why It Matters

tiny houses for the homeless

NAVIGATION

There are so many ways that tiny houses have changed lives and continue to change lives today. Learning about tiny house homeless villages and their positive impact on the community has opened my eyes to yet another way tiny homes are not just transforming individual lives, but are actually addressing the homelessness epidemic around the world.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

I’ve spent the last decade building my own tiny home, teaching others to do the same, and learning more about the ways tiny living changes lives. In that time, I’ve been able to see the positive impact tiny homes can have.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

Why Are Tiny Houses A Good Option For The Homeless Population?

Why Are Tiny Houses A Good Option For The Homeless Population

Tiny homes are one possible solution for those who are housing insecure. They have the benefits of being a dedicated safe and personal space, while being a size that allows for scaling to the local need quickly and cost effectively.

Tiny Houses Are A Good Option For The HomelessMost tiny house communities are comprised of 10 to 30 tiny houses that tenants either rent at a reduced rate or stay in free of charge. Residents of these tiny house homeless communities can usually stay for any length of time, but the goal is typically to help them get back on their feet and reintegrate into society after getting the aid they need.

Being in the tiny house world has allowed me to learn about tiny house communities that support the homeless population all across the United States, which is yet another meaningful use for tiny houses.

I think devoting tiny houses to this purpose really epitomizes what the tiny house community represents: giving everyone the opportunity to live a full, happy life that empowers them to be their best self. There are many reasons why tiny houses can specifically do awesome things to support those in a position of homelessness.

I had the honor and privilege of talking with Hailee Saxton, the Program Supervisor at Quixote Village in Olympia, Washington. Hailee had a lot of insight to share about what it means to manage a tiny house community for the homeless and what she’s learned in the process.

Hailee Saxton

“To provide a roof over someone’s head that they don’t have to lose is the most important gateway for that individual to have a place to appropriately address other obstacles in their life.”

– Hailee Saxton, Quixote Communities

Tiny Homes Give Village Residents A Sense Of Independence

Tiny Homes Give Village Residents A Sense Of Independence

Illuminating the ways tiny homes support the homeless population is in no way meant to overshadow the work of homeless shelters or other support provided to these communities. There is much need around this issue, so any productive solutions should be leveraged when it makes sense.

Tiny Homes Give Residents A Sense Of IndependenceHomeless shelters and group homes do absolutely amazing, lifesaving work in their own ways. However, one of the biggest benefits that tiny house communities can specifically provide the unsheltered population is a sense of independence.

Several psychological studies say that having a place to call our own gives us a sense of belonging, safety, security, and personhood. Even things as simple as having a door that locks, a private kitchen and bathroom, or our own bed to sleep in at night can improve our psyche.

What tiny houses are able to provide the unsheltered population that tent cities or homeless shelters cannot is a sense of ownership, and, in turn, a heightened sense of personhood.

Even if someone isn’t in a place in their life where they could get approved for an apartment or traditional home, tiny house homeless communities provide a simple home to call their own. This is the power of tiny house villages for the homeless.

Hailee Saxton

“These folks are used to coming from tents. They don’t have a locking door; they have no way to keep their belongings safe. At Quixote, they do. That physical change of having a home proves to them that they don’t have to be in danger.”

– Hailee Saxton, Quixote Communities

Using Tiny Homes Allows You To House More People

Using Tiny Homes Allows You To House More People

The size of tiny homes is another element that makes them a perfect fit for use in homeless villages. Put simply, you can house more people on less land while still giving each resident their own home and many of the benefits that owning your own house provides, taking up significantly less space than a traditional home.

Tiny Homes Allows You To House More PeopleI think that’s one of my favorite aspects about living smaller and simpler. I don’t feel like anything is lost by living in less space. I still feel like a full-time homeowner in my own tiny house, even though it takes up less room. Residents of tiny house homeless villages get to experience this too.

It is important to recognize that tiny homes may not be for everyone, so we want to figure out what’s best for each individual person. Tiny homes can be a good stepping stone to the next phase of a person’s journey, a place to find stability and safety. It also allows them to take a step away from survival mode and into a place where they can make decisions about what comes next.

Tiny Homes Easily Support A Communal Environment

Tiny Homes Easily Support A Communal Environment

Another one of my favorite aspects of tiny living in general is the way that the makeup of tiny homes naturally fosters a sense of community and camaraderie. There are so many tiny house communities popping up all across the United States.

Tiny homes and simple living are so conducive to what it means to live communally. This sense of community is so important in a tiny house village for the homeless.

Hailee Saxton

“A communal setting was always the desire of Quixote. Everyone here has experienced similar hardships, and living with people who are able to relate to one another’s experiences is the key to our community success.”

– Hailee Saxton, Quixote Communities

I definitely don’t claim to understand the needs of those who are unsheltered. I have personally never had that experience, nor have I been trained in the needs of the homeless community.

Tiny Homes Easily Support A Community EnvironmentHowever, what I do know about the way people operate is that we need each other to get through life when things are difficult, and to fulfill natural longing for social interaction and acceptance. I especially know that it’s deeply helpful to be surrounded by people who share similar experiences in the day to day.

There are many life experiences amongst the unsheltered community that only those who have experienced them can fully understand. The physical size of tiny homes, as well as the communal aspect of the tiny house movement, allows unsheltered residents to share dinners and participate in other social gatherings like game nights and evenings around the campfire together.

Homeless Villages Save Money By Building Tiny Homes

Homeless Villages Save Money By Building Tiny Homes

Running a non-profit isn’t a low budget ordeal, especially when trying to start a project like running a tiny house village. The great thing about using tiny houses for homeless residents is that these structures are less costly than traditional homes.

Those who run a tiny house village are able to be good stewards of the money they have in ways that might be impossible in a traditional house, apartment complex, or shelter. The size of tiny houses helps the community team save on things like utilities, roofing, doors, and other fixtures that would cost more in a larger home.

The costs that saved on things like lumber and housing aesthetics can be repurposed elsewhere, in areas like group meals, activities, mental health and medical services, and other needs throughout the tiny house community.

how much does a tiny house cost

8 Tiny Home Villages For The Homeless Population

Tiny Home Villages For The Homeless Population

There are already a few shining examples of villages doing tiny house work to serve the homeless populations in their area. Each of these villages focuses on a different demographic, yet each is making a truly positive impact with the work they are doing where they are.

These communities work tirelessly to address the issue of homelessness through the “housing first” strategy, which believes that the key to helping the unsheltered population begins with housing and can grow from there by helping residents find employment, improve their finances, regain a sense of independence, and develop social communities.

Quixote Village In Olympia, Washington

Quixote Village is just one tiny house homeless village in a network of communities operated by Panza. Located in Olympia, Washington, the village was created in 2007 after a group of unsheltered people set up a tent encampment downtown. This tent encampment called themselves Camp Quixote, and were threatened for eviction by the city.

In response to this threat, the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation responded and began to offer sanctuary to the unsheltered population in Olympia. Even though this was a huge asset to the unsheltered population, the city still required residents to relocate every 90 days, which was a pretty heavy burden to bear.

From this, members of the faith community began to come to together to help create the community now known as Quixote Village. They held city council meetings, presented at community events, and raised funds to create the community.

Today, the village is a 2-acre tiny house community comprised of 30 tiny homes at 144 square feet apiece. The village has a communal kitchen, dining area, living room, showers, laundry, offices, vegetable garden, and group meeting space.

Cass Community In Detroit, Michigan

Located in Detroit, Michigan, the Cass Community is a tiny house village partnered with a social services nonprofit to serve the low-income population in Detroit. This includes the homeless population, low-income students, and seniors in Detroit.

Cass Community tenants pay between $250 and $400 a month to rent out one of the tiny houses on the property. The tiny homes available to rent range from 200 to 450 square feet each and include their own front porch and rear deck.

This tiny house homeless village was created by the Cass Community Social Services, which is a huge network of resources that goes well beyond their tiny house villages. Cass provides programs for food, health, housing, and employment all around the Detroit metro area.

Eden Village In Springfield, Missouri

Eden Village was established in the fall of 2010 after 10 individuals joined efforts to form The Gathering Tree — an organization focused on serving the city’s homeless population and fulfilling their unmet needs.

When The Gathering Tree was first established, the organization opened its doors several nights a week to give the homeless community in Springfield a place to rest and refresh from the afternoon to evening hours. This model gave those who ran the charity the inspiration to establish a permanent housing solution for their community.

In August of 2018, Eden Tiny House Village was born. Today, Eden Village is made up of many tiny homes that house homeless residents. Eden’s community center is furnished with a full kitchen, laundry room, computers, a library of books and DVDs, offices for professional service providers for support, a garden, woodworking shop, neighborhood store, outdoor grills, and a storm shelter.

The staff at Eden Village has dreams to grow their community, house more residents, and continue making an impact. Funds for a second Eden Village are currently being raised.

Dignity Village In Portland, Oregon

Since it opened its doors in 2000, Dignity Village began providing shelter for the homeless population in northeast Portland and shares its space with a composting facility. Dignity Village houses 60 residents in tiny homes throughout the property.

Their mission is not only to provide shelter to their residents, but to foster community and self-empowerment to those who are unsheltered. Dignity Village has a core mission of creating a green, sustainable urban village for those who are unable to find shelter throughout Portland.

Those who work at Dignity Village believe that hosting a community-based living facility to meet residents’ basic needs in a stable environment free from violence, theft, and disruption of peace is the key to getting residents off the streets and into a stable home.

My Tiny House Project in Los Angeles, California

The My Tiny House Project in Los Angeles, California, is backed by Starting Human to help provide tiny houses to the unsheltered community in Los Angeles. These brightly colored, small dwellings provide temporary shelters with all necessary amenities for the homeless in L.A.

While the community is thrilled to be able to provide housing to those who need it in the city, they are still seeking donations and aid to add on showers, a laundry room, bathrooms, social services, and more to the tiny house community.

Othello Village In Seattle, Washington

This city-authorized homeless encampment holds 28 tiny homes at 96 square feet each, as well as 12 canvas tents on platforms. Combined, these small dwellings house 100 homeless residents seeking refuge in Seattle.

Othello Village was created in 2015 when LIHI began building tiny house villages in response to the homelessness crisis to help replace the tent cities in Seattle. The village shares a kitchen, shower trailer, donation hut, and security booth.

Village residents participate in community meetings, have daily litter patrols, and serve as eyes on the street in the neighborhood. Volunteers, neighbors, and donors play a huge part in building the houses, setting up the villages, and providing food and supplies throughout Othello Village.

The Cottages At Hickory Crossing In Dallas, Texas

Located in Dallas, Texas, the Cottages at Hickory Crossing is a tiny house village that provides permanent housing and support services for 50 chronically homeless citizens in Dallas.

The cottages were intentionally designed to serve as a model for sustainable urban living by making the most of open space, incorporating on-site solar energy technologies, and integrating rainwater collection.

At The Cottages, many events are held for the residents, including hot dog cookouts, game nights, and more. These tiny homes are located right in the heart of downtown Dallas.

A Tiny Home For Good In Syracuse, New York

A Tiny Home For Good was created in 2016 with the intention of providing safe, affordable homes to the unsheltered population in Syracuse, New York.

This tiny house village currently has 25 homes with more tiny houses in progress. They also work with local agencies and social services to provide tenants with the services they need.

Starting A Tiny House Project For The Homeless

Starting A Tiny House Project For The Homeless

This use of tiny homes to house the homeless population is deeply inspiring and might motivate you to get involved yourself! If these tiny house villages have inspired you to start your own and support the homeless community, there are several things to consider before diving in.

how to start a tiny house community

Find Tiny House Homeless Communities That Already Exist

Find Tiny House Homeless Communities That Already Exist

Before purchasing land and starting to build, do your research regarding people and organizations that may already be doing this work in your jurisdiction. Two hands are better than one, so take some time to see what groups are nearby that already represent the kind of work you hope to do.

There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel here, so if a booming and successful tiny house village for the homeless already exists where you live, reach out! Maybe see if there is a way that you could volunteer with these pre-existing groups or bring some of your own heart, skills, and ideas into their mission and goals.

Hailee Saxton

“It would be awesome for folks who are interested in tiny homes themselves and what it means to live smaller to check in and see what communities are already doing this work.”

– Hailee Saxton, Quixote Communities

Understand Needs Of The Unsheltered Population Where You Live

Understand Needs Of The Unsheltered Population Where You Live

The best way to truly use the tiny house movement to aid the homeless population immediately around you is to understand the needs of the community. The demography of the unsheltered population where you live might look pretty different from other cities and municipalities.

Serving the homeless is not a one-size-fits-all recipe. Some communities may have more elderly folk, some may have more adolescents, some may have more families, and some may have a large veteran population.

This government mapping tool can give you some insight into the statistics that surround homelessness in your city and state, but of course, people and their lives are represented by more than data. Try reaching out to and volunteering at nonprofits and shelters in your area that serve the homeless daily and seek wisdom from them to learn more about the specific needs in your area.

Needs Of The Unsheltered Population
Hailee Saxton

“Seventy five percent of my team and I’s job is just listening to our residents who swing by the office during the day. We learn from them what is or is not working and what their specific needs are.”

– Hailee Saxton, Quixote Communities

Identify Your Community’s Core Mission And Values

Identify Your Community’s Core Mission And Values

The best way to help your tiny house homeless village succeed is to go in with a solid idea of why you want to create your community. Use your research surrounding the needs of the homeless population where you live to inform your vision, goals, and statement of purpose surrounding your community.

The reason for your tiny house village should go beyond housing the homeless and reflect the needs of the group you’re serving. Is your desire to give residents a sense of deep belonging and community? Do you hope your community aids residents as they heal from life-changing events, addiction, or mental illness? Are you wanting to help unsheltered folk in your city find work or gain financial stability?

Take the time to actually write down the purpose and goals you have for your community. Doing this will help you keep a focused framework when fleshing through the more logistical side of the planning process.

personal goal setting

Get Legal Permission To Build A Tiny House Homeless Village

Get Legal Permission To Build A Tiny House Homeless Village

Not every jurisdiction is going to be on board with the idea of building a tiny house community for the homeless population. Building and zoning laws exist in every city and county that key you in to what is or is not allowed in the area.

Hailee Saxton

“Getting the permit was easier than convincing the community that this would be okay. We ended up placed in the industrial district by a Pepsi bottling company — it was the easiest for the community to agree on.”

– Hailee Saxton, Quixote Communities

You’ll need to register your tiny village as a legal rental property, neighborhood, RV park, or whatever designation fits best with the type of properties you will have on your lot. This is a process you can complete through local government agencies.

Depending on how you’re registering the village, you’ll likely seek out the department of transportation or department of community engagement in your city to get your village approved. Check in with your local municipalities to see what works for you.

where are tiny homes legal

Find Land For Your Tiny House Homeless Community

Find Land For Your Tiny House Homeless Community

Finding the right plot of land for your tiny house village may not be a simple feat right at first. Not only will you need to find land that’s the right size for your community of tenants, but you’ll also want your choice of location to warrant a positive response from the community surrounding your land.

There’s a lot that goes into choosing land to buy, especially for such a huge project like this. My best advice is to take some time to write out what your needs are.

How many homes do you hope to build? What size tiny houses will you build? Do you plan to incorporate communal facilities? Knowing these answers right off the bat can help you make an informed choice about your land.

finding land for a tiny house

Think Through Any Additional Roles That You’ll Need

Think Through Any Additional Roles That You’ll Need

As the founder of my own small company, I have quickly learned how vital it is to delegate roles to stay afloat. Buying or building tiny homes for the homeless in your city is a great start, but there are likely many needs within your community that you simply cannot fill alone.

Take time to make a list of additional roles that need to be filled in your community. Start reaching out to local organizations in your area that can help you fill those needs.

Roles Needed May Include

  • Doctor / Nurse
  • Mental Health Therapist
  • Social Worker / Case Manager
  • Teacher
  • Childcare
  • Chaplain
  • Grant Writer
  • Accountant
  • Events Manager
Mental Health Therapist

Create A Realistic Budget For The Project

Create A Realistic Budget For The Project

Creating a budget for a project like this may seem overwhelming when you have no idea where to begin. The cost of a tiny house community is of course going to vary depending on what that community contains and what services you hope to provide on the grounds.Tiny House Homeless Community Costs

I’ve compiled the overall cost of some of the most successful tiny house communities in the U.S. to help give you an idea of the price tag on a project like this.

Keep in mind that this does not have to come straight out of your wallet — in fact, it shouldn’t. Federal funding is readily available for use by charitable projects like this.

Put Togaether A Budget For The ProjectApplying for grants is also a great option to help get one your feet before you’ve been around long enough to develop a steady flow of donors.

Learning about this use of tiny houses has been one of the most inspiring facets of being part of the tiny house community for me.

The way tiny homes are used to serve the homeless population all over the United States is just more evidence of the ways the tiny house community is about so much more than small buildings. It’s about empowering all people to live a life they can be proud of.

Your Turn!

  • How can you get involved with a tiny house village for the homeless?
  • Why do you think tiny houses work so well to help the homeless population?

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