LA opens its first tiny home village to ease homeless crisis

National/World

Amy Skinner took notice when brightly colored structures started taking shape earlier this year on a drab patch of asphalt across from a Los Angeles park where she occasionally slept outdoors.

Skinner, who’s been homeless for three years, watched as workers built a fence with a security gate and transformed the city-owned property into LA’s first tiny home village offering interim housing and services for people who lack shelter.

A homeless person, who calls himself Tiffany, rides by a row of tiny homes, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Then in early February, Skinner was handed the keys to one of the 39 prefab units at the one-acre plot in a North Hollywood neighborhood. She and her partner, John Golka, moved into the 64-square-foot (6-square-meter) space with their little dog, Smalls.

It’s cramped but comfortable inside their temporary home – with four windows, two beds, shelving and an A/C unit. The inscription on the welcome mat at the front door captures their new mood: “This is our happy place.”

“It’s just like god sent. It’s really the best thing that’s happened to us in a long, long time,” Skinner, 48, said after a morning smoke with other new residents in the community’s shared outdoor space. Bright red picnic tables stood nearby and a “hygiene trailer” with toilets and showers was just steps away.

Tiny homes have been promoted as the solution to all kinds of housing needs — an affordable option in expensive big cities and simplicity for people who want to declutter their lives. They’re increasingly used as shelter for homeless people in other California cities, including San Jose and Sacramento, as well as nationally in Seattle, Minneapolis and Des Moines, Iowa.

Chandler Street village was developed and funded by Los Angeles as part of an emergency response to the worsening homelessness crisis. A 2020 tally found there were 66,400 homeless people in Los Angeles County — up more than 12% from the previous year.

John Golka hugs his dog Smalls inside a tiny home, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

More than 150,000 people are homeless statewide. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday during his State of the State address that he plans to commit $2 billion this year to create more housing for those without shelter, while simultaneously addressing mental health and substance abuse issues.

The pandemic has forced even more residents onto the streets, as congregant shelters cut capacity to maintain social distancing. Meanwhile, a 2016 Los Angeles ballot measure meant to fund as many as 10,000 supportive housing units took too long to ramp up and advocates for the homeless demanded officials act immediately.

The city and county began looking for creative, affordable solutions to get people out of the tents that line sidewalks near downtown and under freeway overpasses in suburban areas.

The tiny home village had to overcome some “not-in-my-backyard” reactions from nearby residents who needed to be convinced it’s a safe, clean opportunity for shelter, Kerkorian said.

Ken Craft, CEO of the nonprofit Hope of the Valley, which operates Chandler Street, said he asks dubious neighbors if they would rather have a tent encampment or the tiny homes on the land.

Counselors at Chandler Street provide mental health treatment, legal aid and assistance with job searches. Skinner is getting her Social Security card, which she hopes is a first step toward full employment.

Workers talk to a resident, at right, in front a row of tiny homes for the homeless, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The homes are red, white and blue with bright yellow pathways between them. The eye-catching colors are intended to avoid an institutional feel and help the village fit into the surrounding area. Kerkorian said the city worked with the builder to circumvent cumbersome zoning rules and finish the village in weeks instead of months.

Units cost $7,500 each, including labor and materials, and were shipped as ready-to-assemble stacks of panels from builder Pallet Shelter in Everett, Washington.

The total cost of the project was about $5 million, according to Kerkorian’s office, with the majority spent on re-routing water, power, and sewer lines to the site.  Hope of the Valley gets a $55 per person daily reimbursement from the city to cover three meals and social services for residents.

Hope of the Valley is constructing two more tiny home villages in North Hollywood, including one with 100 units that will be the largest in California, Craft said. More are planned in other neighborhoods.

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