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


  1. In response to those who ask "how could they possibly stand to live in such a small space?", this small space is a safe place to sleep, a secure place to store one's belongings instead of having to drag them around with you, and, when it is placed within a community that provides a location to prepare food together, basic sanitation facilities, and access to providers of social/employment/mental health services, becomes a place not of confinement but rather of opportunity to grow out into a bigger, healthier existence. And on top of all that it is a sustainable practice at a time when the world's resources are being depleted at an alarming rate. Search on-line and you will find examples of housing-secure people who opted to downsize in to tiny homes for no other reason than it seemed like a more sane solution to the need for housing.

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