Tiny Houses Help Homeless in Nashville.

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Today five people who are currently experiencing homelessness in Nashville, Tennessee will move into tiny shelters built upon trailers. About the size of a garden shed, each structure has a fold down bed, a microwave, a tiny gas stove, and a tiny heater/AC in the window. This project was spearheaded by Rev. Jeff Obafemi Carr who stayed in a model home for sixty days while fund-raising to make a larger village a reality. At the time of this writing, Jeff’s gofundme.com page has raised over $55,000 with 650 individual contributions for this effort. Similar projects are popping up all across the country organized by a diffuse group of individuals concerned about affordable and environmentally sustainable housing. More details can be found by visiting Jeff’s gofundme page and the links available there. http://www.gofundme.com/HomelessVillage

 

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Glad a Tiny House

Reading all the articles lately about bay area families displaced by apartment fires, rent increases, and properties transitioning ownership makes me feel very fortunate that My Fiancé, Candace, and I decided to build our own Tiny House when we did.

A Tiny House, while technically a travel trailer complete with kitchen and bath, is designed less for camping, and more for semi-permanent occupancy. Tiny Houses can provide an ownership option for people who don’t want to make a long term commitment to a region, as well as an opportunity to develop sustainable, energy efficient housing. A Tiny House is also a very affordable way of develop communities with a density of 24 to 32 persons per acre, and this density could be increased by organizing smaller bedroom units around larger shared kitchen and sanitation facilities. Density could be comparable to apartment hi-rises and even SRO’s using standardized modular units designed to stack. Due to the portability and compact size of the Tiny House, areas where future development is threatened by sea level rise could serve as temporary lots, or they could be towed right into the back yard of your typical suburban home as an “Instant In-Law Unit.”

Affordable Housing is defined as being 30% of an individuals total income. A minimum wage worker on the peninsula would have to work Roughly 110 hours a week to earn just under $4,000 (before taxes) and that workers’ share of a rent for a two bedroom apartment would be $1300. This presumes that you are lucky enough to find a two bedroom apartment for $2600. A room in shared housing for $700 monthly would still require 55 hours a week, with not much left over to put aside for savings or for an emergency fund, let alone weather an unexpected financial blow. A Tiny House truly is an affordable option, but until there are clear codes defining them, existing building codes are modified to allow for their use, or a process is established for securing variances or camping permits, Life in a Tiny House is simply too good to be legal.

 

Aaron Castle
Aaron Castle blogs about his experience building, and occupying a tiny house at canander.com and can be reached at aaron@canander.com

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The Tiny Housing Crisis pt. III

Seeking shelter is a basic animal drive, like eating. You have a natural built-in instinct to shelter yourself and if you were to wake one day in an unfamiliar landscape, you would find that you were actually quite skilled at taking elements from that landscape and transforming them into a safe place to sleep. It’s also something we learn from each-other. A group of 20 humans in a similar situation would do even better. Different people would utilize materials differently and good design ideas would stand out, and then be repeated rapidly through the camp until there was a general homogeneity of the resultant structures. You may or may not be in touch with it… but trust me when I say that deep inside your DNA you have a primal urge to build a mud igloo and then start a fire inside of it. People can argue all they want about whether housing is a Human Right, I think we can all agree that it is a Human Instinct.

In modern times, Those who have the drive to build their own home can express this instinct by working with designers and builders whose livelihood is incorporated into the hegemony of the grid system. Renters express themselves through decorating and furnishing their homes or apartments, rather than creating them.

A person without access to housing will expresses themselves through the various materials and resources available. A van or SUV can provide a safe place to sleep and so long as it isn’t plainly apparent to be occupied illegally; a law prohibiting people from sleeping in their vehicles seems to me to be more about targeting a homeless population, rather than protecting public safety. Anti-homeless parking ordinances in Redwood City prevent the parking of an RV or Trailer for longer than an hour between 2 and 5am …Strangely,  City, Chapter 34 – Article II. Sec. 34.3. of Redwood City Municipal Code specifically allows trailer camping for out of town construction workers and performers in the traveling circus. Seriously.

The California DMV Handbook advises drivers to pull over and take a nap if they are tired, this seems safe to me. Sleeping in a vehicle is flat out illegal within the entire city, and this makes me want to challenge the legitimacy of these ordinances in the basis of being a threat to public safety.

Once the police recognize your vehicle, it’s pretty much downhill from there. After two or three tickets and a missed court appearance they will impound your vehicle; and this is assuming that you had current registration and insurance info and weren’t towed after your initial encounter. This is in essence an eviction. Once the goodwill of your associates with a couch or floor has become exhausted, true dereliction kicks in and you might find yourself dragging an abandoned mattress under the freeway overpass. A tent along the creek is also nice if you value your privacy and less susceptible to abatement by the police or public works crew, but once a few people start setting up tents or shacks and shanties along the creek near you the unwanted traffic, trash, and associated development of a growing encampment can predict the impending uprooting of your shelter.

I think with 2000 unsheltered persons in San Mateo County, and between 200-500 of them finding residence in Redwood City Alone (counting the ones currently housed in the jail of course) we are in both a state of emergency and denial. In the interest of Public Safety, we need to house people… I recognize that I am a possible germaphobe, but it seems to me only a matter of time before a  Measles outbreak or some super antibiotic resistant staph will take root… and this could cost taxpayers extensively; certainly more-so than setting up some emergency shelters in a county yard and organizing volunteer services for people sheltered there. Our Current infrastructure for housing assistance does little to address the “chronically” portion of the homeless population, and establishing a temporary encampment would immediately reduce the stress on shelters that rely on placement programs such as rapid rehousing. Before stakeholders can agree to undertake such a task, which is successfully being implemented in several locales whose homeless statistics per capita are eerily similar to ours, we will need to address some of the cultural myths of homelessness.

Where there isn’t a collective social disregard for homelessness, there is outright contempt and resentment. The overwhelming cultural vernacular is to suggest that “those people” are somehow responsible for their own plight and that if you don’t go to school, get a job, or pay your bills that you will end up homeless because this is, after all, America and so long as you work hard you are guaranteed to “make it.” It even gets worse, though; all too often I hear that “those people” just need to quit drinking or using drugs, are just plain crazy and you can’t help them, or “should be in jail”. There may be some truth in these generalizations as you work with individuals on a case-by-case basis, but the fact is that people are becoming housing insecure at an increasingly rapid rate and that no matter who you are its only a matter of time before “those people” become your former business associates, your friends, neighbors, and your own Family. I hope it doesn’t come to that before public awareness of homeless people becomes “people who need housing.” instead of “useless humans that we need to waste public funds on.”

The results of the biennial homeless census show a decrease in homelessness in the county.  Acoording to my analysis these numbers were skewed and one only needs to look at the corner of Broadway and Woodside to verify.  Two years ago there used to be one person panhandling at that intersection between 5 and 7pm, now there are consistently two or three.  There is a lot of shame around being homeless because our current paradigm of cultural dominance demands of people to recognize their station and adopt their self-worth to match. People don’t exactly line up to be counted and have actually learned the safest places to bunk down for the night; their lifestyle demands it. You probably wouldn’t think of the homeless population as consisting of people who are technologically savvy or aware of current events, but let me assure you.. yes: they have smart phones, sign up for the email alerts, and as a demographic are more conscious of the census than your average citizen. I know personally many folks who read the papers and the news is discussed in the un-sheltered communities and encampments as well. The exception that I find to that rule is the group who formerly breakfasted at McDonald’s in Belmont; where you can enjoy FOX news for as long is appropriate to loiter with your meal and still be welcomed back.

To be an example, Candace and I are technically living in a Vehicle but we both woke up early and went to work on the day of the count… and our vehicle is “disguised” as an accessory structure so that helps too. We own two laptops and have a blog on our own domain. We have hot showers and electricity, and dwell within a structure that we ourselves designed and built, but we ourselves are technically un-sheltered, and living outside the law. As such, we do not have the legal protections of people who are housed in an official capacity.

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Interdependence Day

I think it telling to our American Values that our greatest national holiday is a celebration of independence. Some people say that we hold individuality in such high esteem as a country because of our cultural myths of scarcity, separation, and progress through competition. I feel that.. I feel we are separate, and that I have to compete, and that it’s a dog eat dog world. I have been told that I am “free, white, and twenty-one” over and over again and that I have no excuse for failing to achieve great success. People think I am smart, I don’t know why; I think it’s pretty clear from my writing I am uneducated. My explanation for peoples’ benevolent prejudice is that they see blocks of text they have no interest in reading and assume my body of work has worth and value. People assume that I am college educated and hold multiple degrees because that is generally the type of company I keep. I have the apparent free time and money to pursue interests and hobbies, rather than seeming to be running on the hedonistic treadmill that is the compulsion to build empires and monuments. People seem to think I am successful and it’s mostly because I am white, and able to schedule three o’clock meetings during the week. I am pretty grateful for it because I end up with opportunities not available to people who.. well .. “aren’t free, white, and 21″

We teach our high school children that Thomas Jefferson penned this immortal and amazing document which touts high minded principles and rights endowed upon us by the creator, and then we share a chuckle about how he kept in bondage and subservience human beings who had a darker complexion than himself. We use this as an example of how public perception of Morals and Ethics changes over time. This Founding document speaks of Democracy, and Freedom… about Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, and then go on to create the constitution which is the actual legal framework that has nothing to do with Justice or Majority Rule, and everything to do with property rights, and who qualifies to have them…. these rights and principles only applied to free white men of age.

Many “Tiny House” people were attracted to the movement by the idea of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency. I also liked the idea of having higher quality stuff, and more money to presumably spend on quality foods, consumer electronics, musical instruments, and my hobbies in general. Promoted is a sense of peace and order; you would look at those tiny beautiful interior spaces and think “I would never misplace my keys or wallet again” Photos of tiny house interiors across the web inspire a feeling of openness, simplicity, and order with clear counters and space on the bookshelf for your tchotchke. It turns out that is all just images of perfection; a beauty that we long for but can never quite attain. Life in a tiny house is real… I mean really real. It’s hard to describe how intense life can be so consider this metaphor. Imagine a pint glass full of water… now imagine dissolving everything that is your life into that water and boiling it down until there is one or two ounces left. Everything that is your life is still there, but there is a lot less water and you are left with is a viscous mess of all that is you.. the real you; and you are forced to look at exactly what it is that makes you so viscous. We thought that we were building a home, but the reality is that no matter where we go we will be guests. In our search for self sufficiency and independence, we discovered how desperately interdependent we all are; no Tiny House is an Island.

A tiny house is a big mess. Life is messy, and in a tiny house it is doubly so. I have to be conscious and mindful of my behavior, for every time I pick something up.. I will have already had to consider where I am going to put it down. Behavior is something that comes from thoughts; thoughts are based on underlying assumptions that we make based on conflicting fundamental stories we tell ourselves about who we are. A person who fundamentally believes all humans to be selfish and that selfishness and competition create wealth will build their beliefs and political analysis quite differently from individuals who understand that our fates are all intertwined. This is odd because the attractive little cottage in the woods speaks to my desire to hitch the house up and head for the hills in retreat; the American image beatific which is in stark contrast to the behavior which would honor true interdependence. My messy house is keeps me safe and warm at night, and it provides me security in that I can lock those material things that I care about and they will be safe until I return.

I have seen people exclaim “a conspiracy by the rich to convince all the poor people to live with less, so they can be crammed into even tighter spaces. The wealthy elite will create even more bogus financial products to divide the land and developers will get 30 more years of work building things” To these people I ask that they spend some time asking themselves where they fall on the spectrum of fundamentally independent or interdependent. Creating a legal infrastructure for these things is going to be difficult because it is so new and the local governments have been working with builders and financiers for decades and are entrenched in system that stands only to be taken down a notch by wide spread self provisioning and refusal to take on debt. This is opening the door not only to a new types of housing, but new types of civic organizations, and new types of thinking about addressing root causes social problems.

History has shown us multiple times that natural and man made disasters alike can strike anywhere and at any time, and millions of people have experienced instant peril. 19.5M worldwide refugees at the end of 2015… which proves that not only are we interdependent upon the living economies of human activity that are beyond any individuals’ grasp, but we are in fact also interdependent upon entire systems which are the mechanics of the one universe which we are all experiencing individually but can never fully understand. On this day, may we wave our flags in an understanding that yes, we are all fiercely independent, with our unique gifts skills and thoughts and behaviors. We are also inextricably interdependent, reliant upon our planet, and it’s systems, as well as upon each-other for every individuals’ unique contribution or need. Happy Independence day, but Happy Interdependence day too.

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The long awaited update… thank you for your patience

One of my biggest fears was that we’d finish the house and I would stop writing because I wouldn’t have the same push or motivation to share our latest building progress. I guess that fear manifested. So, here I am, eh-um, yes, 7 months later, ready to give you an update on Tiny House (non)living.

Since we were obviously not getting anywhere with Code Enforcement, we decided to take it up the ladder of City Officials and found 2 individuals who were respectful, kind and very reasonable to talk to. It was a 180 degree turn from the Code Enforcement officer who was rude, dismissive and avoided answering any questions by talking himself in “because I said so” circles.  So, with a little help from our friends (yep, it really is all in who you know…) we were able to get our story in front of the City Manager & the Director of Community Development. They found nothing illegal with parking the Tiny House in the driveway, apologized for the hassle we had experienced with Code Enforcement and closed the case. Yay!

A big thank you to all who helped to decipher city code, offered legal advice, suggested people we should talk to in gathering more information, those who spoke to city officials & those in the public sector who practice open communication with their residents in hopes of building a better community. Also, a big thank you to all of you who are following our progress and are putting good vibes out into the universe for us! We couldn’t have done this without your words of wisdom & support. Time for a group hug!

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The catch is, although it’s legal for us to park the trailer in the driveway indefinitely, city code makes it illegal for us to live in it. So, our dear friend Mr. Krug, who has been gracious enough to offer us his driveway for the Tiny House, has also opened up his home and rented us a bedroom with complete use of the kitchen and bathroom in the front house. We are extremely grateful for this opportunity as it has given us a soft place to land after our first confrontation in the evolving experience of ‘Where can I legally park my Tiny House’? If we were in a situation where we were forced to park on the street and needed to move every 3 days, I don’t think I’d function well from day to day. Being at Chip’s has offered us a reprieve from the year & a half of building, gave us security of place for the time being and a sense of home we were looking for (without actually living in our tiny home). Thank you Chip!!

So, what are we doing with the Tiny House?

In order to tame the withdrawals of not being in the house every day, I started using it as my office/yoga studio/walk-in closet. I enjoy reading in the loft, meditating, and turning up the spacer heater, lighting candles & stretching (which I don’t do often enough). Aaron & I watch movies in there too. It’s a great hide-out space; like the cushion fort you built in the living room of your childhood home (only this is a bit more structurally sound). Lu, our tiny cat, likes hanging out in there too. It’s perfect for a temperamental creature who loves dark, enclosed spaces, especially when she has access to all the nooks and crannies. She’s even learned to use her litter box in the closet & crawl out through her own little porthole.

I was pretty bummed that I’d have to wait to use the kitchen in our house; in protest (and curiosity to see if it would fit) I moved all of our “pantry food” into the Tiny House. I’ve spent the last 7 months slowly moving it back to the main house, piece by piece. I’ve really enjoyed using the kitchen in Chip’s house. It’s beautiful… the tile is from the 50′s, there’s an old-school gas stove with a grill-top between the burners (great for quesadillas!) and a large ceramic sink to do the dishes. Having the kitchen to ourselves has been awesome; I spend many of my days off in there and have been thoroughly enjoying it! And there are bonuses!

Bonus #1: there’s a record player in the next room with shelves full of albums from the 70′s. Sweet!! Bonus #2: the large double-sided fridge/freezer doesn’t work, so we moved our Tiny House fridge into his kitchen. We’ve been honing our grocery-shopping skills and practicing for the big time, folks! For me, the most exciting part about Tiny House (non)living has been watching us eat all the left-overs before they are pushed to the back of the fridge and lost in the depths of “eww… do I really want to open this container” land. I’ve struggled with this (ashamedly) for years and so happy that the solution to this awful & wasteful habit was to buy a smaller fridge! Composting also helps with the guilt.

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So, that’s the basics. Other than working, we’ve been gardening, spending time at home tinkering with projects and helping Chip out with odds and ends, creating art, cooking, cleaning and organizing our artist space at Whole House Building Supply. We saw Garrison Keillor with friends at the Mountain Winery and traveled to see family and friends in Oregon, South Dakota & Wisconsin; trips which included 2 weddings and a family reunion. Now that we’re back home for the time-being and after my half-year hiatus, I’m relived – and a bit nervous- to be slowly working my way back to the blogosphere. It’s been nice to take a break and catch up with myself again but hope to get back on track with regular updates and thoughts of Tiny House (non)living.

Best wishes to you all as we head into colder temperatures and longer nights! Thank you for your continued love and support!

 

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