A Village Visit
Several years ago (pre-Covid), I wrote about my visit to a local tiny house village. Given the negative feelings that I hear today, I thought maybe it was time to repeat this experience. No one considers these tiny houses a “permanent” solution, but the tiny houses are quick to put up (unlike multi-story buildings) and they are much safer than camping in a tent or under a tarp. The doors lock on the tiny houses, protecting your few possessions. Each house is heated and has lights. There is access to showers and a kitchen area. And there is a consistent staff to help prepare for the next step: permanent housing. The average stay in village is about three months according to the Low Income Housing Institute.
A neighbor and I decided to visit a nearby village, and I called ahead to ShareWheel to see what was convenient. I was told that we should just show up and anyone there could give us a tour. We found a gatekeeper when we arrived and when we explained our purpose, we were welcomed in and introduced to two young women who agreed to show us around. These two had been roommates who lost their apartment when loss of a job reduced their income. They had not been able to stay at a shelter as they had adopted a kitten they found crying near a dumpster.
Tiny House Villages tend to be small; the one we visited had less than 20 little houses. We met the man in charge of supervising the building of the houses and he was there to make some minor repairs. He is retired and donates his time to this project; he visits each village on a regular basis to take care of problems. I was impressed with his commitment. Each house was painted but not garishly. Some had window boxes; others had potted plants by their door. Each resident had their own key; a locked house is certainly a step above a tent. The residents I met were positive and grateful to be there except for one teenager who didn’t want her school friends to know she was living there. She would walk a few blocks away to catch the bus to school. (I did not meet her; this was hearsay from residents and her mother who was delighted to announce the two of them had managed to get an apt. and would be moving within the week.)
Our guides explained that the village had a weekly meeting on Monday nights to handle any issues; one of the Share Wheel folks would be there (the same person who was assigned to their village.) The rules had been developed by the residents; there was a curfew as they take turns volunteering to be the “gatekeeper” and no one wanted to be up all night.
They take turns in doing the volunteer jobs, one being keeping the litter picked up OUTSIDE the village in the surrounding neighborhood. (At another neighborhood meeting, I heard permanent residents expressing gratitude for this task.) There is a system to sign up for the shower and the responsibility of cleaning up after oneself for the next person. (Better managed than my daughter’s dorm bathrooms at Reed College.)
Anyone can cook; some folks cook their own meals and others cook together. Mealtimes vary as more than a third of the residents were working. There was a separate small building for donations; we had brought some warm hats and gloves which were taken to this building and our donation of food was taken to the village kitchen which was neatly organized and the picnic tables clean. We saw no litter anywhere in the village.
The reason I support the Tiny House villages is that it’s much quicker than building permanent houses and there is help from Share Wheel in securing an apartment. The average stay is about 3 months. It can be a 3 year wait for a building to be built and occupied. That’s a long time to spend in a tent with the annoying sweeps that have increased under our current mayor. I spoke mostly to women and as a woman, I would much rather be in a tiny house with a locked door than in a tent.
I think the small size is what make the village more successful. The large buildings with no resident manager tend to have more problems with no place to get them resolved. I was still working and visiting Home Health patients in large city owned buildings when they decided to do away with resident managers to save money. The complaints were many and for the older population, there were safety concerns. When someone fell at night, it would be up to their neighbor to hear the thump and call 911 instead of notifying the resident manager. Very bad move for the city.
As a social worker in a large city back east, I saw the same scenario. The smaller buildings on a grassy lot where the buildings were arranged with some space around them, had fewer problems than the multi-story buildings surrounded by concrete. One of the more successful projects had 3 story buildings situated in a U-shape around a large grassy area. Residents would wave at each other and when I visited, some would call out greetings from their windows. I think both the residents and I felt safer in this setting than in a multi-story building with a smelly elevator and long dim hallways.