“It’s a tiny solution to a huge problem,” says Ken Craft.
He can state that with authority. Craft, CEO of Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, has made it his life’s work to feed, clothe and house the homeless.
He is overseeing the installation of a row of cabins or “tiny homes” in North Hollywood, the latest effort to get the homeless off the streets and into shelter.
Craft, the Los Angeles City Council and many organizations believe that cabin (tiny) houses could be the answer to homelessness in the San Fernando Valley.
Cabin homes are not meant to be permanent housing. At 64 square feet, they are too small for long-term housing. But they are a start. They have room for a bed, and shelves to store personal items. Most importantly, they have a door that locks. The worry about leaving items outside or having them stolen is solved. The ability to leave belongings someplace safe is overwhelmingly important to people experiencing homelessness. How do you go for services or a job if you don’t know that what little you have is safe and will be there when you return? Doors that lock. A simple thing that makes a huge difference. Each unit also has electricity, heating and air conditioning.
The cabins are made of materials that will not rot or deteriorate over time. They can be sprayed or hosed down – important points if they are to be reused in an era of COVID-19. They can be completely sanitized before the next person moves in to the housing.
As of now, there are two sites scheduled for cabin homes in the west valley. One is in the parking lot directly behind Councilman Blumenfield’s office at Vanowen and Yarmouth. Fifty cabins are planned for that location. Another 75 cabins will be built at the second site near the METRO station on Topham just west of Reseda Blvd., which is currently underutilized space. Bathrooms, showers and laundry will be offered, and there will be on-site case management to make sure people get the individual services they need. The County is responsible for providing basic health and mental health services as well as other critical elements.
What about the effect on the neighborhoods? Homeless people wandering around, congregating in the area, trash, fires, general disorderly behavior?
According to Blumenfield’s office, those problems and more are occurring now at west valley homeless “hot spots” at Corbin, Ventura Boulevard West and Don Pio behind Franklin’s Hardware.
Those problems don’t exist in other areas that have tried cabin housing. L.A. isn’t the first area to try this housing. Other installations have reported no increase in any sort of crime in that area once the cabins were occupied. None. Not in any of the sites. Not in the valley. Not in Riverside. Not in other states. All the imagined horrible things didn’t happen. The residents of the cabins didn’t congregate and cause trouble. Other homeless people didn’t establish encampments around the cabins.
The areas were kept clean. The tiny homes are also cost effective. Each cabin costs $3,000 (vs apartments that cost over $400,000). Yes, the apartments are larger, but they also take more time to build. With cabins we can begin to address homelessness and give individualized services in the interim.
So how do the city and county pay for all this? There are pools of money set aside for homelessness. There is also fundraising. The service provider, in this case Hope of the Valley, is being paid to manage the site and ongoing programs, but the amount they are being paid is less than the cost of running the program. So they are raising funds to cover their costs.
Private donors can be given credit for sponsoring a cabin. The Winnetka Chamber of Commerce took on the challenge of funding the cost of one cabin through member donations and chamber funds. The West Valley-Warner Center Chamber of Commerce is looking at plans to do something similar. It’s a great way to support your community – provide housing that can be used to house the homeless. Reusable, sustainable housing that allows people time and services to get back on their feet.
For the west valley sites there is a projected move in date of April 2021. That is how quickly these communities can be completed.
Another aspect of the cabin communities that has gone largely unnoticed is who is actually doing the building. There is a contract with Palette Shelter to build the homes. It is the people that Palette hires that make it interesting. Part of their building staff are people who were formerly homeless. So they are employing people who have been there and are giving back to help others.
Homeless cabins being built by formerly homeless people.
An idea whose time has come.
Laura Levinsky is a lifelong valley resident.