In other cities, 64-square-foot aluminum and composite sheds are being used as quick and inexpensive emergency shelter for homeless people.
Not in Los Angeles. Here, plans to employ the minimalist structures, known as “tiny homes,” have blossomed into expensive development projects with access roads, underground utilities and concrete foundations — and commensurate planning delays.
At the city’s first tiny home village, scheduled to open in January, each of the 39 closet-sized homes is costing $130,000, about 10 times what some other cities are spending. Five more villages are planned to open later.
Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the program in March, signaling that the concept of sheltering people in tiny homes, long neglected in Los Angeles, had emerged as a leading strategy in the city’s response to a federal lawsuit alleging it has done too little to get homeless people off the streets.
He told the court that the city had purchased 50 of the prefab structures as the first installment of a plan to shelter homeless people in villages of tiny homes around the city.
Several months ago, the Free Thought Project cofounders made a small donation to the groups Food Not Bombs and the Sidewalk Project who were raising funds to build tiny homes for the homeless in Las Vegas. The group raised $16,000 and built 26 tiny homes for for people who had previously been living on the streets. It was an amazing feat put together by a handful of caring people trying to better their community. But thanks to the City of North Las Vegas government, the tiny homes are no longer.
Police and city officials raided the camp last week and destroyed all the homes. All the hard work and dedication of the volunteers was wiped away in an instant, along with all the personal belongings of the ones living there.
“Last week our local government destroyed the Houseless encampment we were building tiny homes for, that you both donated to help build,” Joey Lankowski, who does homeless outreach with Food Not Bombs, told TFTP. “They destroyed all 26 homes we built.”
The City of Las Vegas claimed that the destruction of the homes was just as they maintain “this right of way for NDOT, the property owner.” Officials claimed that destroying the homes was necessary for “the safety of those staying there and to the surrounding homes and businesses” because of trash build up and two alleged crimes they claim are tied to the encampment.
But Lankowski says the government was threatened by the encampment because it was a self-sustaining community. In an interview with NPR, Lankowski explained why this place was so important.
Lankowski said the city of Las Vegas doesn’t want people camping downtown and Clark County doesn’t want them sleeping on the Strip. So, the area, which has been used by homeless people for a long time, is a good place to be.
In addition, there is a natural spring that allows people to get fresh water. Lankowski and his group envisioned a self-sustaining community at the encampment.
They had a plan to put solar panels on the tiny huts for power, start gardens for free food, install compostable toilets for waste management and divert the spring for more water.
“Free food, free water, free energy, free housing,” he said, “It really was going to be something beautiful and completely self-sufficient, self-sustaining and I think that’s what really scared the government.”
Now, these folks, who had a place to keep their belongings as they attempt to get back on their feet, are back on the streets looking for a place to go — ensuring unsafe conditions for all of them.
As for the trash build up, Lankowski said they had dumpsters on the site, but then the city stopped emptying them, which created the build up.
“That’s how we knew a raid was coming, even before they told the residents, is that they would stop servicing the dumpsters and then trash would accumulate and then they could point to the trash and say, ‘See, this is why we had to come in,’” he said, “It was a completely state-created problem and such an easy fix, just do your job – just service the dumpsters.”
Sadly, it’s not just the homes that were lost in the raid. Residents of the encampment were not allowed to grab their belongings, so that was all destroyed as well.
Parallel to this and largely under the radar, however, the private tech sector is moving into position to swoop in and take advantage of the impending housing crisis. Just as news of a mysterious virus was breaking late last year, Facebook invested $1 billion for the construction of 20,000 new affordable housing units in California, following Google’s lead which had made the exact same commitment a few months earlier. Apple more than doubled Google’s and Facebook’s investment, combined, when it put down $2.5 billion for the same cause.