The tiny house movement: Is this enough to end homelessness?

A new trend has been popping up in a few cities around the country that is proving to be a practical way of fighting off the homelessness problem in the United States: the construction of tiny-house villages. Many of these tiny houses, some as small as 99 square feet, have been built by volunteers using recycled materials. They are cheaper than a traditional, full-scale house (some as inexpensive as $5,000) and are clustered in groups with common buildings in the middle of the community.

Homelessness in this country is a major issue. With more than 3.5 million people affected each year, these villages have some advantages. With adequate insulation and a propane heater, they are shelter from the harsh climates—which definitely harmed those experiencing homelessness in Chicago through this winter. They are also great because the community allows the tenants to work on the grounds, plant gardens, and are a place that the tenants can call home. Just that pride and joy can boost spirits and build hope for the future. Being in close proximity to others in their similar situation can also form a sense of solidarity between those living in the tiny-house community. They can look after each other and stick together.

Here’s an image of an architect’s rendition of Quixote Village in Olympia, Washington:

Image courtesy of Panza

I think these villages are great—assuming that we don’t stop there. For a person experiencing homelessness, having a roof over their head and a warm place to sleep at night makes a world of difference, but as the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” These communities are only an immediate fix to an ongoing problem that plagues our nation. Don't get me wrong, this movement is a good one, however I fear that it is by no means an all-time fix.

Moving people experiencing homelessness into these villages may simply make an already ignored population even more ignored once the novelty of the village wears off. These people struggling will continue to struggle as the villages blend into just other houses in the city. Those accustom to seeing a person experiencing homelessness on the street as they pass by will have less opportunities to notice the dire need for reform of the system as a whole. The communities of tiny houses may also be secluded and neighboring businesses and residents may be hesitant to venture in.

After we’ve built these villages and given these human beings adequate housing, we can’t stop advocating for the rights of the homeless elsewhere—as well as those in our communities who still cannot afford to move into these villages. States around the country are creating bills of rights for those experiencing homelessness—many of which we highlighted in our August 2013 Sounding Board,Why homelessness shouldn’t be a crime.” We need to continue fighting stereotypes that label the homeless as lazy, crazy, addicts, or unloved. We need to push for laws that support just wages, mental health services, addiction recovery, as well as others that will keep people off the streets from the beginning.

Although it is an admirable thing to do and is truly a step in the right direction, we cannot simply give those experiencing poverty a house and call it a day. We need to focus on human dignity, respect, and love. Only then can we come to permanent solutions.

If you’d like to support the tiny house movement, visit these two websites: Second Wind Cottages and Occupy Madison Build

About the author

Caitlyn Schmid

Caitlyn Schmid worked as assistant editor at U.S. Catholic.