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Would you live in an 8x8 ft house? Mini villages are being built to tackle homelessness in LA

Arial view of the Chandler Tiny Home Village in Los Angeles City, USA
Arial view of the Chandler Tiny Home Village in Los Angeles City, USA   -   Copyright  AP Photo
By Marie Lecoq  & AP

Villages of tiny houses are being built in Los Angeles as a way to tackle the city’s massive homelessness crisis - which has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic - and help people living on the street live normal lives again.

The Chandler Tiny Home Village in North Hollywood is one of several tiny home villages which are being built around the American city.

Local officials say homelessness in Los Angeles has become a humanitarian crisis and the numbers of people living rough have swelled since the pandemic.

According to the last count, there are more than 60,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles County, but charity leaders say it is more like 80,000 to 90,000.

Three months to build a village

The developers hope each of these little homes will create a sense of hope, safety, and security for the people now living inside them.

Unlike traditional homeless shelters, these little dwellings measuring 8 ft by 8 ft (2.4m by 2.4m) can be quickly built with an entire village taking around three months to install.

Ken Craft, the Founder and CEO Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, says the villages exist to prevent, reduce and eliminate poverty, and provide long term solutions as well as emergency assistance.

"We realise this is not the solution but it is part of the solution to address the homeless and humanitarian crisis, not just here in Los Angeles but across the world,” said Craft.

“Why? Because these particular units can be deployed, and they can be set up, they can be put together in an hour's time and once they are put up, now somebody actually has an emergency house, with temperature controls, with a bed, a front door that locks, so we know the value of bringing people indoors".

The villages offer several services to help people get back on their feet.

Each person is given their daily necessities, a case manager, and a housing navigator who will help them find permanent housing as well as job training and placement assistance.

They are also offered mental health support and substance abuse services.

Success story

Los Angeles councillor Paul Krekorian, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley and is a supporter of the Tiny Home concept, says the villages are a success story of innovative, affordable, and scalable solutions that other cities can replicate.

"This piece of property was an underutilised piece of park space,” Krekorian said.

“It was frequently blighted with illegal dumping and encampments and so on, so what you see is now in its place is a beautifully managed, attractive facility that not only provides temporary emergency housing and services and daily meals and everything else for the people who live here.

“But it's really important for the surrounding community over what they had as well and if communities understand that, they'll be much more supportive of the kinds of solutions that cities need to implement in order to address homelessness".

Village residents subject to rules

To live here, residents must abide by strict rules.

There is a curfew from 10 pm to 6 am, although exceptions are made for those who have different work schedules, and people are searched before they can enter the community.

There is zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol, and weapons, but unlike regular homeless shelters, pets are allowed.

The premises, which are under 24-hour video surveillance, are surrounded by a security fence and anything that is not allowed inside the community can be placed inside a private locker outside the gate where a guard has the key to ensure no theft.

According to 58-year-old Steven Smith, the village has been a lifeline.

Smith, who ended up on the streets after his mother died, says the village has given him discipline and a framework to live in.

"This is teaching you when you get housed, have your butt home early so you're not involved in nothing else," he said.

"Go to work, be responsible for what you do because right now you are responsible for everything that you do from this moment on and that's the bottom line. You're not getting a pass for nothing else. You don't have a safety net to say, well hey it's his fault or it's her fault, no, it's your fault".

'Bridge villages'

Chandler Tiny Home Village was the first to open in February 2021, with 39 homes and 85 beds. Now the charity runs a total of six villages in North Hollywood.

The developments were designed by architect Michael Lehrer and his colleagues.

They say they chose bold colours to create a sense of happiness that makes residents feel optimistic and willing to re-engage with society.

But also to allow the villages to blend seamlessly into residential areas so neighbours would want to welcome them.

Lehrer says cities wanting to build what he describes as 'bridge villages' need to get everyone on board, not just city officials.

"Everyone involved from the community, the city agencies, the designers, the builders and everyone else needs to be on the same page. They need to act in partnership. They need to act as if they are formal partners. It's the only way to achieve excellent outcomes and to move the ball forward. These projects are challenging. They test people's patience and will and when everybody acts together, it's amazing how quickly and effectively how excellent outcomes can happen."

The Valley Rescue Mission claims most residents are usually rehoused in permanent accommodation within four to six months.

The unit is then free to house another person looking for a roof over their head, a hot shower, a meal, and coping skills for a better way of living.

Video editor • Marie Lecoq