Tiny Homes Village brings big hope for homeless

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on May 1, 2017 in Rat News | Subscribe
A rendering of Beloved Community Village by the nonprofit design group Radian Inc.

RiNo — A tiny home can make a huge difference for a homeless person. For 14 Denver homeless individuals, the Beloved Community Village project will mean safety, stability and community.

The project got a temporary zoning permit from the city to erect 11 tiny homes at 3733 Walnut St. in the RiNo neighborhood.  Organizers hope to have the homes built and people moved in next month. “We have 200 volunteers and we’re ready to go,” said Ray Lyall, a volunteer with Denver Homeless Out Loud, one of the organizations behind the project. “We can build them in a week, once we get the funds.”

The 8-by-12-foot homes will house people who have trouble getting into shelters for various reasons. Future “villagers” were chosen based on diversity and need. Among them are a few couples, a person in a wheelchair, a transgendered person and a woman who keeps pet rats. About half the residents are white and half are people of color. About half of them hold down jobs.

“Transgendered people get punished in shelters, even by the staff, and couples can’t stay together anywhere,” said Lyall, who is also homeless. “Most shelters don’t allow pets, and this woman loves her rats. This is the right fit for all of them.”

Lyall, who camps at California St. and Park Ave. West, says he’s not needy enough to live in the village. “I’m an old white guy and I do fine on my own. I don’t get in trouble or get my stuff stolen.”

The need for the project is underlined by the lack of affordable housing in Denver. While large-scale affordable housing is moving forward, these developments cost millions, and take years to move from concept to completion.

The Colorado Village Collaborative is heading up the project and requested the zoning permit, approved in early April. The collaborative includes Denver Homeless Out Loud, the Interfaith Alliance, Bayaud Enterprises and Beloved Community Mennonite Church, among others.

The tiny-homes project began in 2013, when Lyall and others approached the Denver Housing Authority (DHA). “We started building tiny homes and looking for a place to put them,” Lyall said. “DHA had a piece of vacant land in Five Points and they asked us to write a proposal, but when we did, they rejected it. We built eight tiny homes in a big park at Lawrence and 25th and were arrested eight hours later. City Councilman Albus Brooks wanted to help and he got us a piece of land next to the highway, on a 90-degree slope. Our engineers couldn’t figure a way to build on it. Nine months ago the Urban Land Conservancy gave us this land in RiNo and so we met with the City Council. During the meeting the mayor walked in and said ‘Make this work.’”

The zoning permit is approved for 180 days at this location, zoned CMX5 (commercial mixed use). “We’re looking into a permanent place but the zoning will have to be changed because there isn’t a designation for permanent tiny homes villages,” said Lyall. “It will need to be close to services [food, medical], so it can’t be far from downtown. The city planning department has been wonderful in telling us what to do, how to write our proposals.”

Temporary showers and restrooms will be provided onsite, as well as a “circ house,” much like a modern yurt, used as a common area, meeting room and food preparation area.

Beloved Community Village is a pilot project that organizers hope will prove successful and grow, like the successful tiny homes villages in Portland, Seattle and other cities. “We have 40 to 50 tiny homes designs from Portland and Seattle,” Lyall said. “We sent some folks up to Portland to learn about it.”

It will be a self-managed, self-governed community in which the residents make up the Village Council. The weekly Village Council meeting is where conflicts will be addressed and chores will be divided up. A resident will be on duty 24/7 to ensure security. An Advisory Council comprised of supporting organizations and neighbors will provide support.

“The folks in Portland’s Dignity Village gave us ideas about how to do this,” said Lyall. “We wrote the guidelines, but the villagers will do it themselves. It’s much bigger than giving them a house because they’ll be invested in running the village.”

The community aspect of the project will make it work, said Lyall. “The homeless community is the most generous you will ever know. We help each other every day. This works in other cities and we can do it here. I know it will work.”

The project’s estimated cost is $130,000 to build the 11 tiny homes and move them, and rent the restrooms and showers. A GoFundMe campaign raised $24,450 of its $30,000 goal in one month, as of April 26. Grants are pending from such funders as the Denver, Rose and Piton foundations. In-kind contributions of building materials are coming in as well. “We use whatever we can get,” said Lyall. “Once we have a permanent spot, we can do all sorts of things, like solar panels and geo domes.”

The Colorado Village Collaborative hopes to have three villages up and running by next winter and up to 10 villages by 2020. Lyall wants to give more homeless people the opportunity to be self-determined. “Too many homeless people sleep in the dirt in this city. The shelters are jam-packed with people on the floors. It would be awesome to have an LGBTQ community, a young adult community, a community for women and their kids. All those groups have different needs and they can figure it out.

“We are told what will be done about us, but nobody asks us what we want. We want to take charge of our own lives.”

For more information, or if you’d like to help, see denverhomelessoutloud.org/ www.gofundme.com/denvers-first-tiny-home-village, or belovedcommunityvillage.wordpress.com

 

Article source: https://www.northdenvertribune.com/2017/05/01/tiny-homes-village/

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