Tiny Solutions

Tiny Solutions for a Not-So-Tiny Problem

By Betsy Judge

Tiny houses are in the news. Tiny houses have their own TV shows like: “Tiny House, Big Living,” “Tiny House Builders,” “Tiny House Hunters,” “Tiny Luxury” and “Tiny House Nation.”

Celebrate Outreach volunteer Courtney Allen points to the number 329 when briefing members of the Veterans of South Pinellas County. That is the number of veterans in Pinellas County who were counted as homeless during the 2017 national Point in Time Count. Veteran supporters say the need is much greater than that. TIR staff photo.

Here in Pinellas County, Celebrate Outreach, wants to build tiny homes to house otherwise homeless veterans.

The group is a partnership of Saint Petersburg area faith-based congregations and individuals dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness through direct service, advocacy, community education and social justice.

At a recent Veterans of South Pinellas County meeting, Sabine von Aulock, the secretary of their board of directors, and Courtney Allen, a Celebrate Outreach volunteer who developed their tiny house business plan, briefed the group on the project.

Allen points to a poster board with 329 written on it. It is the number of homeless veterans count- ed during the 2017 national Point in Time Count mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). People familiar with veteran homelessness believe it is much more than that and Celebrate Outreach wants to make a dent in it, whatever the number.

They purchased plans for the houses, that are about 470 square feet, designed by students at the University of South Florida. They are currently in fund raising mode and the timeline calls for purchasing land in April, procuring materials in May and breaking ground in June for a home dedication around Veterans Day.

Tiny homes come with a relatively tiny price. They are figuring $47,000 per house, but raising money is only a small part of the challenge.

“The other important component that we’re looking at is space,” says Allen. “As most of you know, it’s increasingly more expensive to buy prop- erty in Pinellas County.” They have reached out to the city (St. Petersburg) to look at what are considered sub-standard lots they can get cheaply or for free. The substandard references lots with odd shapes where traditional homes can’t be built, but they could be perfect for tiny houses.

This screen capture of the Celebrate Outreach home page promotes the tiny homes project and allows visi- tors to donate to the effort. The nonprofit also feeds homeless people each Friday night and Saturday morn- ing and provided 14,000 meals last year.
Image courtesy of Celebrate Outreach.

But it isn’t just about being able to build either. “What’s also important is it has to have access to transportation, it’s got to have access to food, and then obviously, most important are services,” says Allen. “If we’re going to bring someone off the streets, they need wrap around services, they need services today and they need services tomorrow, and you’ve got to have access to that. So the placement of this property is absolutely critical.” They are also considering private sales as well as city property.

Then you have to find the right veterans. “We are partnering with organizations to vet our veter- ans to make sure that they have the means to get into a home and they have support long-term,” adds Allen. “It is really easy to put someone in house but it’s not real easy to make sure that someone can stay in the house and that’s critical to our work.”

Veterans must be homeless or at risk, interested in being a homeowner, be receiving a monthly HUD VA housing subsidy, under the care of a serv- ice provider, and willing to complete homebuyer counseling and commit to an individual care management plan.

“As excited as I am about seeing the first house built, it’s really the second, the third, the fourth and the fifth house that really gets exciting. But the first house is a tipping point; it gives us credibility, it gives us a track record. I want to keep a laser focus on the first house, but I’m pushing the organization to be thinking in large terms because there are tiny home communities popping up all over the coun- try to solve access to housing. We can do that here.”

They have had a lot of individual contributions as well as support from organizations. “I would ask you to give thought to how you support an organ- ization like ours,” he says to the vets.

It didn’t take long for veteran Carol Barkalow to suggest they team up with her organization, Heaven on Earth for Veterans.

“We have nine houses and rent bedrooms to veterans in need. What I have found in the last six years is sometimes it’s not necessarily good to have them living by themselves,” says Barkalow. “Maybe we could create a program where they live in a community environment, then when they are stable enough, they move into one of those tiny houses by themselves. It would be an amazing way to use the resources within the community to help that veteran become self-sufficient.”

For more information or to donate go to www.celebrateoutreach.org.