Sheds for the Homeless

“Activists build tiny home community for the homeless!”
“Tiny Houses for Homeless Help”
“Support My Fundraiser to Build Tiny Homes for Homeless”

tiny homes homeless.gif
There are more empty actual-sized houses than homeless individuals (including families who would share a home) in the United States. We don’t need sheds.

It’s hard to escape this sentiment, that tiny homes – usually defined as single family dwellings under 400 square feet – are either an ideal long-term solution to homelessness, or at least a temporary solution worth pursuing in the face of immediate need. While the tiny homes people lovingly construct for themselves sit pretty close to that 400 SF mark, the “homes” built for homeless people to live in are closer to about 40 SF. They are most often glorified sheds, with no kitchen, no plumbing, no insulation. They do not pass any building codes for human habitation, nor should they. They are not safe.

There are different motivations at work here. There are the do-gooders, the people passionate about helping those less fortunate than themselves, who see an obvious unmet human need when they see someone sleeping on the street, yet at the same time don’t see an obvious unmet human need when they see that same person sleeping in a shed. Overturning entrenched political (dis)interest in solving homelessness seems impossible, but hammering together a few sheds on the weekend feels like something they can really do about the problem.

Then there are the environmentalists, eager to see scrap resources get used rather than go to a dump. Tiny houses, especially when they are for the homeless, use primarily reclaimed materials. At their worst, these types see homeless people as a type of ecological scavenger. Their influence in “feeding” the homeless contributed greatly to the current situation where most of the food “donated” is non-salable waste redirected to homeless people rather than the dump as a type of a human garbage disposal system.

Other people just like the supposed cost-savings of tiny homes. The initial materials costs are often used as a selling point of the concept, with “under $5,000” being reported positively in many stories. Of course, cheap means low-quality, as it always has.  Four foot by ten foot sheds built of “reclaimed” materials may be cheap, but they aren’t real homes. The low price is achieved through volunteer untrained labor, second-hand goods, and a home too small to have guests over, or a dog, or a child. I don’t think many of the people reading this inside homes (rented or owned) would rather live somewhere a fraction of the size and with none of the amenities, built by volunteers rather than trained builders, even though it would cost less.

Few articles mention that at the end of participating in the building of these “homes” (without bathrooms or kitchens) the homeless remain homeless. They do not own these homes; they are “stewards” of them – beholden to certain rules and subject to eviction if the board members (people who live in real actual-sized homes) decide their stewardship is not good enough.  The Madison tiny house community is considered the model of the form. It features 9 tiny “homes” and a large central building for the volunteers workshop, on a 1/3 acre lot that used to be a mechanic’s garage.

Like homeless shelters, tiny homes do not solve the problem of homelessness. Guaranteed minimum income for all (documented or not) and government provided homes for those who cannot obtain their own would actually solve poverty and homelessness. I know people mean well when they devote their hearts and souls and days off work to building sheds for homeless people to live in. They are thinking “This is so much better than living on the street!” They are not comparing it with what they should, living in a real home. If they were, they would see: tiny “homes” are no solution at all.



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