Help Needed Now! Tiny House Project Could be a Stop Gap for LA’s Homeless

GUEST WORDS--With some of the richest celebrities in the world — and thousands of people on the streets — Los Angeles is the definition of an economically divided city. 


To combat the city’s reputation as the homeless capital of America, LA residents such as Elvis Summers (photo above) recently launched the Tiny House Project, building small houses equipped with locks and solar-powered lights, and donating them to prevent people from sleeping outside. 

However, the city has not responded well to the placement of these houses — including sites like the 110 Freeway underpasses — and has confiscated them, citing them as health hazards and nuisances to local residents. 

Ironically, last month LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his plan to curb homelessness in Los Angeles by investing $1.85 billion over the next decade and an additional $150 million over the next two years. 

Instead of evicting people from the tiny houses, the city of LA needs to team up with innovators like Summers and work on building new communities for homeless people. It should work to provide more public-private partnerships to provide immediate care to the homeless. 

LA should follow in Portland’s footsteps with the nonprofit Dignity Village, which has expanded micro-communities for the chronically homeless on city-owned property for the past 15 years. 

The city should initiate efforts to relocate the tiny houses in permitted areas to alleviate tensions with local residents. To address sanitation concerns, the city government should move these homes next to facilities with basic plumbing or bring in portable toilets and washing stations. 

Small compartment homes give the homeless an opportunity to find comfort in their own individual safe places. Many homeless shelters are overcrowded, and people come and go without being given proper mental health care or rehabilitation treatment. Evicting people from their tiny homes then forces them back on the streets — which is surely not safer than living behind a locked door. 

In the past, Garcetti has given hollow promises about helping the homeless. In fact, since Garcetti’s first day in office three years ago, the homeless population has increased by 12 percent. The city already spends approximately $100 million to deal with homeless people, but much of the funds go toward law enforcement to police the population. The city criminalizes the homeless and confiscates what little property they have instead of helping them. 

However, the homeless have apparently become a big enough eyesore to cause people to complain to Garcetti and that has initiated some change in his policies toward this vulnerable population. 

Garcetti’s new agenda includes building and leasing long-term housing for the homeless with direct access to social services. After his top advisor left earlier this week, he also plans to appoint a city homelessness coordinator and create more public restrooms and showers. 

However, Garcetti’s agenda points to a questionable allocation of funds. In a city homelessness report, officials stated that funding may be acquired through federal and state grants, fees on real estate transactions and bond or tax hikes. However, there has been no real confirmation of how additional funding will play out to acquire the $2 billion needed within the next 10 years. Ultimately, the plan will cost a significant amount of money and take extensive time to conduct research and development. 

In the meantime, provisional solutions should be implemented, especially with public-private partnerships, which have more flexible fundraising strategies as seen with the creation of philanthropic enterprises. 

Summers crowdfunded nearly $100,000 in donations to build tiny houses, and with the help of the city in a public-private partnership, a transparent and direct plan of action can be taken to address homelessness in LA.


(Erum Jaffrey writes for the Daily Trojan where this piece originated.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.