According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2014, there were approximately 578,424 homeless individuals on any given night. Of that number, 31 percent did not have access to sheltered locations.
"Microhouse" communities may have the ability to significantly improve those percentages.
Cities across the United States are examining the potential of creating tiny-home communities to reduce the population of homeless individuals living on the streets. While many of those individuals do have access to shelters like Salvation Army, the majority of such locations require them to check out in the morning or afternoon and check back in during the early evening, and do not count as any sort of even semi-permanent housing. They do not provide the stability or safety of a true home.
(Various tiny-homes within the Dignity Village community)
However, as has been demonstrated by communities like Dignity Village and Opportunity (or better yet, "OpportUNITY," as some signs spell it) Village, tiny-house communities might just be able to provide that stability, even if for a short period of time.
Dignity Village has become one of the longest running “transitional campgrounds” for the homeless population. Located right outside Portland, OR, Dignity Village has existed for roughly 15 years, and is made up of 60 microhouse residences, each about 150 square feet. Although there is a waitlist to get into the community (as it only allows 60 residents at any given time), once an individual is accepted, there are only five rules to live by: No violence, no theft, no alcohol or drugs, no constant disruptive behavior, and each person must dedicate 10 hours a week to better the Village.
Likewise, Opportunity Village is located right outside of Eugene, OR, more than a 100 miles south of Portland. Beginning its operation in 2013, it’s significantly newer than its Portland counterpart, but it houses up to 30 individuals at any given time in residences that range from 60 to 80 square feet. Like Dignity Village, it was created mostly through donations, and it follows the same five guidelines for behavior while living in the encampment.
(Opportunity Village in Eugene, OR)
There are other tiny-house communities located throughout the country as well. Quixote Village in Olympia, WA; Village of Hope in Fresno, CA; Emerald Village, also in Eugene. Most locations offer communal kitchen, bathroom, and recreational areas, some of which include computers with wireless connection for residents to search for jobs online. While the residents are charged rent, the payments typically range from a mere 20 to 30 dollars a month in order to pay for various utility fees. And all of these communities share the same overarching goal: To provide to humanity’s most downtrodden individuals a “stepping stone to transitioning back into society and having a home themselves”.
However, if there is a downside to a program such as this, it is that there is a dangerous lure of complacency in the sudden availability of safe and secure living. Nonprofit operations like Dignity Village have gotten their most criticism in bringing otherwise homeless individuals off the streets, but failing to reincorporate them into public society. Instead of reengaging themselves back into the wider community, many individuals find themselves in these encampments for months, even years at a time.
The microhouse communities themselves are working to fix this problem as well as they can. The city of Portland has issued a two-year limit on residency within Dignity Village, and Opportunity Village has begun a system which offers transportation to and from the downtown city area multiple times a day.
It is crucial, though, to examine exactly what prompts this difficulty to begin with. I propose that the fault of this issue lies not with the homeless individuals who take shelter within the community, as they, like all other people, are entitled to shelter that is both safe and stable, or with the communities themselves, who offer up these services without any prompting whatsoever, but rather with our cities and their populations, who hesitate to allow these individuals back into the fold.
Such microhouse communities are revolutionary – however, their effect can only grow so much if they are not allowed to be built in such a way that they have easy access to cities in which their residents can find work. Dignity Village is a whole seven miles from Portland's thriving downtown area; while that might not be much for some, it can be unconquerable for those without easy access to transportation. Complacency would not be so much of an issue if an area of opportunity, or at least, transportation to such an area, were easily accessible.
Tiny-home communities have the potential to be a huge leap forward in assisting the nation’s homeless, but only if we can bring ourselves to embrace their possibilities.