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What LA can learn from a Seattle strategy to fight homelessness: tiny house villages




One of Seattle's tiny house villages
One of Seattle's tiny house villages
The Low Income Housing Institute

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has a new proposal to use more emergency temporary shelters to get homeless people off the streets. Orange County officials are thinking about this sort of "rapid-rehousing," too, and have considered managed tent encampments in some areas.

The city of Seattle has some experience with this. Since 2015, that city has been experimenting with temporary shelters that officials call "sanctioned encampments." Some are made up of tents while others offer people tiny houses to live in.

The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) in Seattle helps build and operate what they call "tiny house villages." 

Sharon Lee, the executive director of the LIHI, explained that these villages are made of houses that are the size of a small bedroom, with windows, front doors, heating and electricity. Those living in the villages use communal kitchen and bathroom facilities and work together to run their communities.

People are doing chores. There's a lot of self-help and the villagers meet every week. Homeless people do not feel isolated; they feel that they are engaged. People are taking pride in their tiny house and their surroundings. It's just like a neighborhood.

LIHI's houses that are the size of a small bedroom, with windows, front doors, heating and electricity.
LIHI's houses that are the size of a small bedroom, with windows, front doors, heating and electricity.
The Low Income Housing Institute

Seattle originally used tent camps for the sanctioned homeless encampments, Lee said, but now they've graduated to tiny houses. The houses are sturdier and safer than a tent structure, which makes them a better home for residents, Lee said.

When you're in a cold wet tent, your belongings get wet, you're not safe, it's not sound insulated, you really don't have much privacy. Now everybody has a sturdy tiny house and it's great because you can lock the door, you can now go to work, you can go to school.

So, what about the NIMBYs? Lee said some residents were concerned about the tiny house villages when they were first proposed, but now that there are several across the city, people have become more comfortable.

Residents can visit the villages to see how they're run, and when they do, many are surprised how organized they are, she added.

The tiny house villages are only a temporary solution to housing homeless individuals, but Lee said they are a key first step to more permanent housing. The villages provide services including assistance with housing and job searches, helping people get past the barriers to exiting homelessness.