Alternative housing for the homeless: two examples.

Note: This is turning into an entire series on homelessness. (See this and this and this and this and this and this!) I’m about to give the subject its own page. Not surprising, when I think about it. One might say that this entire exopermaculture blog is about COMING HOME, from the most particularized specific, right here right now in this very spot on Earth, to our planetary home in the infinite cosmos.

Two folks have spoken up in ways that I really appreciate. Laura Bruno and Julia Jackson.

Blogger Laura Bruno commented, when I spoke of a legalized “tent city” as one way to address an immediate need (especially in the summer months, for Bloomington’s homeless folks with addiction and/or mental health issues), that a “tiny home” community might be better.

“I wonder about making a community of tiny houses instead of tents. Could that work? Goshen, IN has a program called La Casa, which buys the worst of the worst properties in need of rehabbing, turns them into highly efficient homes and then provides various services to help economically depressed people either purchase or rent the homes. There’s a maximum income accepted for La Casa, and they have really transformed Goshen into a nicer place. Realtors hate them, but so many vacant or dilapidated properties are now fit for people to live in them. This is a local initiative, and I really believe it will be local initiatives that get us out of this mess … strategically meeting the needs of each community.

“Here’s the link to LaCasa, Inc.: They are local but also joined a national coalition of like-minded, community based organizations to strengthen their impact and resources. We’re new to Goshen, but I have heard that this organization has really helped. Maybe something similar can also help in Bloomington. It’s not a homeless shelter, per se … but definitely targeted to helping low income people live in respectable, healthy homes. They also build apartment complexes.”

Thanks, Laura! Of course houses would be better than tents! I was just responding to the immediate need here. (And yet, I loved living in a tent, a yurt, myself . . . why the cultural assumption that permanence is always preferable? Hmmm.)

Now here’s a great post, sent to me by another friend and former neighbor, Julia. Thanks Julia! I post with comments.

Tiny Home Community for the Homeless

May 2, 2013

by Steven Kuchinsky

I am part of a team of people from Monmouth University building a program known as THRIVE (Towns for Healing and Rehabilitation in Interactive Village Ecologies.)

We are working to create an alternative for about 80 homeless people living in tents (Tent City, Lakewood). Unfortunately, they must soon leave and will only have a homeless shelter to go to for one year and then they are on their own with no facilities available.

tent city

We want to create a sustainable community where these people together can build micro-homes and learn to live in a holistic life style.

We want to partner with whatever appropriate, likeminded caring people/groups will support this endeavor, such as Habitat for Humanity, various school programs that initiate sustainable farming, Home Depot which teaches home maintenance, and finally proponents of tiny homes that would like to make a difference in the lives of these people.

What better way to empower homeless people than to give them the opportunity to build their own homes and build their own community!

To what extent would you like to be a part of this ranging from simple suggestions, sharing contacts, ongoing communication, educating, etc.?

Here is a website about Tent City, and here also is a slide show (video) that I created. As idyllic as it may look, it is very difficult in the winter and they will not be permitted to live in these tents much longer.
(The pile of wood chips shown in the slide show were placed there by the town to make it more difficult for people to donate food to the homeless people. The county has since enforced removal.)

11 Responses to “Tiny Home Community for the Homeless”

  1. I hate to say this, but the way our government is ignoring the plight of its own people and wasting billions of dollars in other countries we are going to see a great deal more of these tent cities and people in terrible situations in the future. The elderly, the poor and the Veterans are really taking it on the chin. My parents and my aunts and uncles had to live in tents in the 1930′s and it is no picnic. Americans do not deserve this kind of treatment. I wish the rest of America would wake up and make congress do something!

  2. Erik says:

    What about sanitation, building regulations, facilities? To be soft and fluffy and qualify it as “empowering homeless people” and looking to partner with “likeminded people” is great, but what’s to prevent such a development to become strewn with trash, sewage, burn barrels and shopping carts and moreover a hazard to the general community.

    Call me harsh and mean, but this is exactly why towns have enacted square footage restrictions and zoning bylaws.

  3. John Woods says:


    If you haven’t already done so, you should look into the story of Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon. They accomplished something very similar to what you describe.

    Their website does not have as much info as it used to, but you can also find a lot of images through a Google image search. You can also find articles about the facility with a search on Dignity Village and there is a Wikipedia entry at

    The site they used is a city owned parcel not far from the airport, which serves the public works department for the City of Portland. It isn’t the most scenic spot, but the location avoids potential conflict with neighboring property owners, which is something you will need to consider as you search for a site.,-122.636297

    • John Woods says:

      In reference to Erik’s comment, he expresses a very valid and widely held concern. In the Dignity Village case, the site is monitored by the city and the residents have formed a type of neighborhood government that is similar to an HOA in a suburban development. Residents that don’t obey the standards of the village can be evicted and so the community is quite effective at self-policing.

  4. John Woods says:


    Your post really has me thinking. I had an interesting experience in a small New Jersey town about five or six years ago. The issue of homelessness was growing as the housing bubble was beginning to burst; this happened just as a homeless man was found murdered in a vacant field. The town had not seen a murder in more than a decade. Up until that point, the town dealt with the situation the same way used by most suburban towns; the police would pick up the homeless and drive them to a shelter 30 miles away. Somehow they would always come back within a day or two. The nonprofit group I directed met with the local ministerium to discuss the issue. We decided to hold a series of meetings at local churches to invite the public to discuss the issue and develop a strategy to address the problem. We held three meetings, which were attended by almost 200 different people.

    An interesting thing happened. When the plight of each individual was discussed, the people attending the meeting realized that the unrecognizable people they saw on the street were people that they knew or with which they held connections and relationships. People set about anonymously fixing the problems for the people they knew. Someone heard that their music teacher from grade school was now retired and homeless. They provided an efficiency apartment and local store owners hired her to play music for the customers in their stores. Two run-away youth that were hiding out from an abusive situation at home were taken in by one of the ministers that operated a youth ministry. Another anonymous benefactor provided a safe place to camp for a veteran that suffered from PTSD and feared staying in buildings. Similar stories happened for many other homeless community members. With a little more stability, those individuals were able to find ways to earn a little money or to stabilize their lives.

    After the three meetings, nothing was decided about how to address the problem; the churches couldn’t do much more than offer temporary help. No one wanted to build a shelter. It didn’t matter though, because the homeless all found safer places to be without being forced to stay in a dangerous shelter 30 miles from home or being harassed because they didn’t have a place to go. The problem solved itself without setting up a new program and without the community passing off the problem to another community down the road that had a shelter attracting the homeless from the entire region.

    My takeaway is that it is important to put faces, names and stories on homelessness. When people know the story, they will find a way to help. It is much easier to help a person than it is to help a bum. Don’t let homelessness change people into some evil and dehumanized adjective. I wish I could take credit for the results, but the only thing I did was start a conversation with local ministers and the solution just happened through strong community spirit and charitable attitudes.

  5. -billS says:

    There is already a system in place to help many, if not most, of the people in this situation. I have volunteered at homeless shelters in my area. They have a process to get people enrolled into the system. They get temporary housing at a shelter while they apply for public aid. Then they get food stamps and section 8 housing assistance and many get on Medicaid or Title 19 for medical and resources to obtain employment. The thing is, many do not want to abide by the rules or stick with the process. The tent villages here are more of a junk yard. They are disgusting. While the idea to help is admirable, it is difficult to embrace the idea of helping people that often, are not willing to help themselves. There is a national campaign advertising the food stamp program. There is money sitting that is not applied for. Media tries to tell us that it’s an education thing, that many people are not aware of the benefit/program. Seriously? Everyone knows about food stamps. Most of the homeless today would be the residents of sanitariums of the past. While society has helped to improve the dignity of humans, there has not been an effective replacement for the sanitarium. Nothing is life is free. You either have to work for it or get someone else to do the work. The media will show a person saying they cannot obtain work but will not look into the reason why. There is no single answer to this problem. We can build all the micro-communities we want but the real cost is maintaining them. Sure, people feel good about helping, companies get good press by donating materials and volunteers and there is a great photo op when built. But the real reason people are homeless will be the ultimate failure of the project. Mental illness and/or addiction. The place will end up like the junk yard tent villages unless you are willing to continually return to do the housekeeping. And when one resident burns their shelter down on a cold winter day, a slew of lawyers will swoop in the sue the city for not properly maintaining it. I don’t have the answer, but like so many, we think that throwing money and resources at something will improve it. That is not always the case.

  6. mike says:

    this is why there are so many restrictions stopping me from building what i want to build…

  7. John Woods says:

    I just found a better link for information about Dignity Village. There are some amazing thoughts and images posted. It is well worth wandering around the website to get a feeling for this community built by and for the homeless.

    For the Tiny House crowd, it is worth noting that the shelters built in the community must fit within dimensions that can easily be moved. That applies to being able to move them with a forklift around the site or with a flatbed on the highway. They are all tiny homes.

  8. John Woods says:

    It’s true that there are systems in place to shelter the homeless, but many of the solutions they offer are worse than being homeless in the eyes of many needy recipients. It isn’t for lack of good intentions, but sometimes the help offered is not the help needed. That’s the problem.

    Many of the chronically homeless in that small Jersey town were afraid of being beaten at the homeless shelter. The housing options that they were offered forced them to move away from their home place and away from their meager social network. To take advantage of food stamps, you often have to have a home address to receive mail or a phone to receive calls. Sometimes they have faced long term poverty and are no longer eligible for welfare. There is potential for tiny home communities to serve some that are not reached by current options.

    Let’s not be like a Dickens novel…

    “Are there no prisons? And the union workhouses – are they still in operation?” Ebenezer Scrooge

  9. Kim says:

    the lack of empathy and compassion by some here is distressing. Volunteering at a homeless shelter (if one takes that as true) does not make one an expert on the situation. Americans should have the right to a basic level of existence. It isn’t all drug addicts and mentally ill on the street these days, read the financial/economic news lately?

  10. Heidi Rosello says:

    I totally love this. I am trying to figure out how to do the food side of this component…I have a passion to create the same solution for the people that need help…I would love to help anyway I can…I live in northen california. I believe that we need to build community mind set with people even before they are in tents

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