Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tiny Housing First: An American Success Story

In 2009, there was an onslaught of media attention covering the American tent city as a physical symbol of the country's economic recession.  The story was ignited by a report on the Oprah Winfrey Show titled "Inside a Tent City."  This was followed by a photo essay by Justin Sullivan of Getty Images that juxtaposed images of today's tent cities with the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. The New York Times reported, "Cities Deal with Surge in Shantytowns."  It was even picked up internationally from Al Jazeera to the Daily Mail to illustrate just how bad conditions had gotten in the United States.

The stories evoked either sympathy or disgust, but certainly not hope.

But five years later, in 2014, we are now beginning to see stories of hope.  We are beginning to see the coverage of grassroots responses to this very same dilemma, where the unhoused and the housed have been working together to transcend from camp to village.  Examples include:

  • Olympia, Washington's Quixote Village - 30 tiny houses - opened January 2014
  • Madison, Wisconsin's OM Village - 9 tiny houses - in planning stage

This is certainly an American success story.  It is the essence of why I started the Tent City Urbanism project in the first place back in 2010.  Local citizens recognized the problem, and they have developed community-based solutions to that problem.  As these stories of success spread, it is only a matter of time before cities throughout the nation adopt this cost-effective model for housing the unhoused.  Homelessness remains a prevalent issue, government budgets continue to tighten, and tiny house villages are an important part of the answer.

National coverage includes:

Associated Press; “Tiny Houses Help Address Nation’s Homeless Problem” (carried by ABC, CBS, Yahoo News, The Washington PostDaily Mail, etc.)
The New York Times;  “Small World, Big Idea”
Yes! Magazine“Tiny Houses for the Homeless: An Affordable Solution Catches On” (reposted on

Tent Cities and Human Rights

I have been focused primarily on the tiny house & village end of the spectrum as of late, but it looks like some new light will be shed on the American tent city story soon.  See below about an upcoming report and webinar by the National Law Center:

In March, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty will release to the public its long-awaited report, “Welcome Home: The Rise of Tent Cities in the United States,” addressing the human and civil rights implications of the growth of homeless encampments across the country.

The report, co-authored with the Yale Law School Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic, comes as the U.S. prepares for four reviews by international human rights monitors in the coming year, and follows new steps by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to address homelessness as a human rights issue. It also comes on the heels of the Law Center's annual "Human Right to Housing Report Card

Come and learn about the human and civil rights issues faced by homeless persons, the response from the federal government, as well as the process of review by the U.N. human rights monitors and how you can make human rights real in your community. 

To register for the webinar: