Last weekend, (November 15th, 2014) in an effort to keep people off the street, a community of tiny houses for the homeless opened in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. These homes were built by a coalition of homeless people and members of the group, Occupy Madison.
With help from the community Occupy Madison has built nine tiny houses, a day resource center, laundry facilities and a community gardening space in the village. Each tiny house is 96 square feet and is made of recycled and reclaimed materials. They include a bed, a toilet, solar panels for electricity and propane heat. Each house costs around $5,000 to build, the money was raised with private donations.
While there are millions of vacant homes int he United States at this time, many believe simply using these homes for homeless people may not be a doable solution. Of course it could work and would probably be better than simply letting them sit, perhaps this solution could be another way to begin creating community amongst homeless people in a sustainable fashion. Not only that, programs to help educate people and end homelessness would also need to be run along side this type of solution.
“Rather than taking people form the streets and putting them in a building, we thought we could work together to create our own structures,” says Luca Clemente, with Occupy Madison for WKOW in Madison. “We don’t give houses to homeless people, we enable people to build their own houses to create their own futures.”
How Did They Accomplish This?
The village is located on a piece of commercial property and is paid for by private donations. The members of Occupy Madison won the approval from the city with assistance from many different local supporters. Much of the support came from other non-profits such as: Friends of the State Street Family, The Bubbles Program, (which provides free laundry services) OM Build, Homeless Ministry at Bethel Lutheran Church and Madison Street Pulse.
Some of the Occupy Madison organizers have stated in regards to working with the system rather than against it: “Our approach to working within the system came only after we realized that without dotting every “i”, and crossing every “t”, the city and the county would never let us operate– they used every opportunity to enforce ordinances, regulations, and seemingly arbitrary whims against us. This paralleled precisely the persecution of everyday, unaffiliated, homeless individuals. When you are homeless, “the system” is rife with obstacles designed to prevent creative innovation or adaptation– we at Occupy Madison experienced the same headaches.” organizers also stated “In many ways, we have had much more success since we changed our approach. This was due not only to how we communicated with city and county offices (we never shirked from being open or transparent), but how we are perceived by Madison’s genteel liberal population. It’s stunning how a flowerbed on a windowsill can be so much better for PR than the window itself, or the house it’s attached to.”
There are six other cities across America that are adopting tiny homes, while others are installing homeless spikes. I would like to know how exactly these city officials believe that these spikes will solve anything.
What Can We Do?
If this project inspired you to help the homeless in your community, there are many things you can do! Consider donating warm jackets, socks, long johns, boots, hats, gloves and sleeping bags to your local homeless shelters. You can simply go to heavily populated homeless areas with a big pot of hot soup and hand it out to those in need. Or get a group together and get active! Consider starting a tiny house village for the homeless in your community!
What we (The CE Team) learned from some of the homeless people that we met when we went downtown to hand out bagged lunches in September was priceless, you can check out that video here:
To learn more about Tiny Houses I highly suggest watching the documentary called “Tiny,” or visiting this website.
To donate to the Occupy Madison Tiny House Village Project click here.
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