Laura Mordas-Schenkein

How Tiny House Villages Could Solve America's Homeless Epidemic

ent city urbanism, Andrew Heben, tent cities, tiny house villages, homeless, micro-housing

Could the tiny house phenomenon solve America’s homeless epidemic? Andrew Heben, urban planner and professional tiny house builder, says it can. His new book Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages explores the growing trend of American tent cities and how micro housing villages could transition people out of homelessness for good.

ent city urbanism, Andrew Heben, tent cities, tiny house villages, homeless, micro-housing

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced that we are experiencing “the worst rental affordability crisis this country has ever known.” As a result, many of our nation’s homeless have organized self-governed campgrounds, called Tent Cities, to protect and shelter themselves within a community of shared resources. While many of the encampments offer safety and kinship, very few are sanctioned and many run the risk of shutdown.

ent city urbanism, Andrew Heben, tent cities, tiny house villages, homeless, micro-housing

Andrew Heben has studied dozens of tent cities throughout the country, lived in one Michigan-based dwelling, and is now working to develop the model into a more permanent solution. His new book delivers practical and affordable advice for transitioning tent city encampments into full-fledged micro-housing villages. The new concept enhances the naturally sustainable model of tent cities, in which dwellers effectively share and reuse a limited amount of resources.

Related: Housestrike Bike Camper Empowers the Homeless with a Tiny Shelter on Wheels

Heben co-founded Opportunity Village in Eugene, Oregon. The non-profit-run transitional community for the homeless consists of 30 tiny houses (60 – 80 sq. ft.), a common kitchen, a main office, a gathering area, and restroom facilities. Inhabitants of Opportunity Village live in a drug-free and violence-free safe haven that is meant to transition them to more permanent housing. The same non-profit, Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE), is now planning a permanent housing development known as Emerald Village, with slightly “larger” (120-150 sq. ft) tiny houses and a surrounding communal support system.

tent city urbanism, Andrew Heben, tent cities, tiny house villages, homeless, micro-housing

According to Heben, tiny house villages could also offer a sustainable housing model for the masses. Heben says, “It is opening the door to sustainable, human-scale housing options for other demographics as well—including those currently devoting an unsustainably high percentage of their income toward rent and those looking to simplify their lives and downsize their environmental footprint.” Thinking of starting your own tiny village? His new book is available for purchase here.

+ Tent City Urbanism

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5 Comments

  1. Tiny Homes NJ November 3, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    It is tremendously encouraging to see the Tiny Home solution being proposed and implemented throughout the country.

    For seven years, we had a Tent City in Lakewood, NJ that was home to around 80 people on average. However, the Township of Lakewood shut the camp down several months ago, despite the absence of a homeless shelter. As a condition of the encampment’s closure, eligible residents were placed in temporary housing or motels. However, for many, the encroaching deadline means that they could soon be literally out in the cold.

    Tiny homes are not only less costly to build, maintain, operate, and control than larger complexes, but also to provide a sense of dignity and ownership not afforded by traditional homeless shelters. Several weeks ago, we unveiled our model home, “The Micro Angelo” to the public, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. We who support and advocate for the homeless are hopeful that a cost-effective, sustainable, comprehensive solution like Tiny Homes/Micro Housing can be implemented with the help of local and national organizations.

    You can also find more information on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TinyHomesNJ) or website (microhomesforthehomeless.org).

    Thank you for your continued work on behalf of the homeless!

  2. swendt September 5, 2014 at 1:12 am

    You’re talking about what somebody else is already doing: http://www.mlf.org/cf

  3. jbert08 August 24, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    @MDenn1157… posts on this kind of site are usually to introduce you to something that you can look into more if you’re interested. I’d suggest you do so before laying out so many assumptions. There are legal tent cities that have existed here in Seattle for years without any incidents to justify your speculations. Why not let them build simple compact houses with volunteer labor instead? It seems to be working in Eugene. Improves conditions/aesthetics and costs far less than leaving folks on the street…

  4. MDenn1157 August 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    I agree with the statement that lumping low income people together doesn’t work. There are a lot of factors to the homeless situation.

    The traditional homeless person often suffers from either substance abuse problems or some kind of mental illness/factor. This population is often target for abuse from criminals, such as drug dealers, adult/child traffickers, as well as political/law enforcement. This would lead to a very toxic community filled with illegal activity, rape, and other undesirable situations.

    This would also be very expensive to maintain due to the amount of public services required to help these individuals (Case managers, social workers, utilities, food assistance programs, medical care, as well as any liabilities that result from housing these individuals. All of which would be taxpayer funded.

    There is also a growing segment of the homeless population regarding people and families who have lost their jobs to globalization and greed (Rich getting richer… But it’s because of the recession… Right… Whatever you want to call it. I call it raping and pillaging.) These individuals would better benefit from such an environment, however families cannot live in tiny houses. There have been countless psychological studies done in the living area and stress related to healthy mental, emotional, and physical conditions of a family. Families need a bigger home where they have they own personal space, away from others, to grow as an individual.

    Communities like this also need something to do, such as farm! Being largely self sufficient would build pride in a community and bring people closer. Just having them live in a tiny house would do nothing but continue such a cycle. It would also bring in money allowing a small community co-op that could build someone’s resume. After all, not working for an extended period of time makes one look very unacceptable to an employer. It would be a better way for someone to get out of a situation that might not have been a result of their actions in the first place.

    As far as people incessantly talking about the ecological impact… Life has an ecological impact, and we are apart of live on this planet. If you want to stand on a soap box crying about the environment go after globalization. One super tanker creates more pollution in one day than does all the cars in the world do in a year. Politicians allow this because of kickback, and the whole system is corrupt. If you want to make a positive change you can do a lot more living your life as you would normally do, doing as much locally, whether it feeding your family locally grown produce, finding building materials that have been locally manufactured with local resources, or making sure whatever your driving is mainly made in the USA. I’m not talking about buying Ford, GM, or Chrysler. An entire car is made out of parts, so if all of those are made out of the country than it’s really an import. Sometimes Toyota, and other foreign car manufacturers make a better “made in USA” cars than do the “homeboys”. After all most corporate suits don’t give a shit about the little man, just their bonuses.

    So just live your life and be a little conscience about what you do and where your money goes to. If it doesn’t make sense don’t do it. If you can only do a little of what I said than so be it. But please quit blabbing about your eco footprint and all of that other bullshit. Existentialism is only for those who have too much time and/or too much money, and don’t really know what it’s like to live a life without comforts or the pressures and stress other people live on a daily basis.

    It would be better to find God and live the way Jesus said to live. Love they neighbor, instead of having corporate schlumps telling you that its moral to shrink your life so they can live more grander.

    Sorry about the rant. The first part does ring true however. Something so simple is a lot more complicated. More thought and research needs to go into these articles instead of jumping on a blurb and making one feel so much better due to a shallow existential soap box as to what someone, more so a corporate interest, said about why people are evil and what needs to be done to make the world a better place.

  5. daryl n cognito August 24, 2014 at 12:26 am

    It is an interesting idea, however, lumping one group, especially low income, or homeless into one area doesn’t work. Scattering micro homes throughout an urban centre makes for a more diverse and more sustainable community.

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