Homeless residents are given a big lift: life in tiny residences
Denver’s crowd-funded tiny-home project has run into several roadblocks, but more than a week ago, 14 residents moved into their new community and on Saturday they invited reporters to see it.
Eleven 8-foot-by-12-foot homes and a bathing house fill the Urban Land Conservancy-owned property at 38th and Walnut streets. There are also several tables covered by three white pop-up canopies, which are a temporary solution for the missing food-prep and living-room space.
Terese Howard of Denver Homeless Out Loud said the more permanent, cylindrical building should be there any day. It was was delayed because it needed additional permits.
Saturday, after a week of settling in, a conference was held to thank those who made the completion of the project possible and also to show off the much-anticipated community.
“We didn’t build this village because we like cute tiny houses,” said Howard. “We built this here because we have an extreme housing crisis. Thousands and thousands who don’t have a place to call home.”
Each tiny home has a painted gray exterior, wooden steps, a small stoop and a white door. Inside is a single room with two windows and hardwood flooring.
Howard encouraged people to view the community as a spread-out home and to view each residence as a bedroom.
Colorado Village Collaborative is a community-based organization founded by DHOL, Beloved Community Mennonite
Church, and an aggregation of other organizations and volunteers.
For Amanda Mcdougald, it was almost serendipitous. She left drugs, homelessness and an abusive relationship in Killeen, Texas, four months ago to start over in Denver.
“It’s a huge blessing, I’m so grateful to have everything,” she said. “I was literally woken up (the morning of July 21) being kicked by cops because I was ‘trespassing’ by sleeping somewhere that said no loitering. And that same evening I was moving into my own home. I have keys and a house and a bed, I’m so grateful.”
But the village is not out of the woods yet. This is a 180-day pilot project to establish proof of concept. ULC granted a six-month lease of the property for $1 per month.
During that time, they will be scrutinized by the city to make sure that a safe and habitable environment has been established for the residents. After sixth months, the homes will hopefully be unbolted from their cinder blocks and placed permanently on soil.
“Our sixth-month countdown began (July 21),” said Nathan Hunt, the program director for Economic Justice with Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. “We have a few different (permanent) locations in mind. From here, we will figure out a location that works best for the residents for transportation and other factors.”
The lucky 14 were chosen based on risk and need. DHOL chose six of 60 applicants through an interview process and then let those six chose the remaining residents.
“People who cannot or will not, for good reasons, stay in shelters,” said Hunt, describing the residents: “Trans people, the LGBTQ community in general, people who work odd hours, people with anxiety and other disorders.”
Other than meeting a risk factor, the applicants need to be currently homeless and commit to the basic nonnegotiable rules: no violence, weapons, illegal drugs, discriminatory or oppressive behavior. They also must participate in maintenance of the community.
While 54-year-old Byron Steele is grateful for a place to call home, he said the homeless problem will still continue to balloon out of control if the real issue, which he said is mental illness, is addressed.
“I’m not here to fake the funk.” he said. “I’ve never in my life seen so many 19- to 20-year-olds walking around talking to themselves. To control homelessness you have to get control over mental health.”
Formerly homeless Rhonda Romero greets her friend Eric outside her new tiny residence in the River North area of Denver on Saturday.