Saturday, December 28, 2013

So They've Reinvented the Trailer Park?

I don't mean to be a spoilsport, and I admire what they are doing, but this new "Tiny House" movement is all kinds of wrong headed.  Here's the gist of it: Madison Wisconsin, like the rest of the country, has a rapidly increasing homeless problem (up 47 percent in the last three years) which includes both single men and women and also families.  Occupy Madison has created a kind of temporary solution in these tiny homes--96 square feet, toilet, electric light, bed.  It doesn't say if they have kitchen facilities.  The cost per home is 3000 dollars which obviously compares favorably to the state paying hotels for emergency housing and may compare favorably to subsidized Section 8 housing if that housing is scarce or unreliable.  Right now the Tiny Homes are set up on trailers so they can be parked on the street and towed every 48 hours.  This gets around zoning issues but, of course, adds to the cost since the homeless person now needs to have a car capable of pulling the house or needs to be networked in with a community organization that will tow and re-settle them on a regular basis.  A potential long term goal may be to place 30 or so of these houselets into a planned community which would then, presumably, offer amenities like laundry, landscaping, common areas, cooking facilities.

From a long term perspective I'm not sure I think this is better than a properly run SRO, or some other kind of quasi public, subsidized, small housing for people.  For one thing these don't have kitchens or laundries attached.  So the occupant needs to satisfy these basic needs offsite.  They appear to be one room with a toilet--so they aren't a good fix for families who are homeless.  In addition, as far as I know from presentations I've been to for the homeless female population of my own city, an enormous portion of this population has substance abuse and mental health needs which need to be met.  They aren't all homeless merely because housing prices are out of sight around here. They are also homeless because they don't have the family and social networks that keep people couch surfing or living in a room in someone else's house.  Privacy is great but it can also create isolation. In fact one low threshold homeless shelter in my city has instituted a program to enable the women who do get apartments to come back to socialize with each other during some afternoons. They found that the isolation of being housed, after being on the streets, was very difficult for this population to take since they tended to lack family, jobs, and other social connectors.

I like the idea of some kind of mini co-housing model, in which people can share cooking, laundry, and workshop spaces while limiting their private spaces to these inexpensive houselets.  We already have high end co-housing here which enables people to downsize and conserve on space while sharing and co-owning areas, like a library or a big social space, that they only need once in a while.  Co-Housing and shared spaces are both cost effective and socially desirable--in the absence of affordable single family homes or apartments, that is.   But I wonder if this model of the stand alone (or pull alone) trailer bedroom is really a good solution for generic homelessness in many places? How is it different from recreating an privatized trailer-style living situation for vulnerable people? Its not even necessarily as good as a standard trailer, which have cooking facilities.  Also, it should go without saying that a stand alone house, which does not share walls, roof, utilities, hookups etc... with other units is not as ecologically conservative as a well designed apartment within an apartment building.

Cross posted at I Spy With My Little Eye


M. Bouffant said...

One-time homeless person here. I'm w/ you on all points, & must add that I can see people & their housing being suddenly towed away (probably to somewhere isolated) at the behest of any "property owner" who is offended or irked.

aimai said...

Well, conversely, they are working with Madison to enable people to park these things on the property of friends. One reason that people end up homeless (aside from all the others) is that whole areas have been zoned as single family and you can't park another person or trailer on the property and, essentially, subdivide. This is public policy which aims to make property owners happy and keep property values high/services low but which works against people who might be able to double up with friends and family but whose family homes are too small.

Ten Bears said...

Best. Headline. Eva.

There are degrees of "homelessness" The bozos parked in WalMart parking lot in their hundred thousand dollar rigs are as homeless as I in my old chevy van. I don't piss in the gutter, or eat at a soup kitchen.

A used camp trailer, or pickup camper (on a pickup) is far more efficient.

No fear.

Examinator said...

Good thoughtful piece. I tend to agree with you in that this is better than nothing but how long before some right wingnut starts harassing the 'social security sponge losers(sic)' or some entrepreneurial Realter/developer starts advertising areas 'no transients' or those in better areas start to complain about " that they worked and paid taxes to live where they are so why should these losers get it for free
There are as many different types of homeless with their special needs as there are homeless. You're right humans are a social species and need to feel/be connected to their local community.

Likewise warehousing these people in specific areas tend to create slums, hopelessness, violence, crime, drugs et al.

Clearly the answer is one of a range of solutions in sinc with their needs

marieburns said...

Your suggestion that the homeless would be better-off in a co-op omits the consideration that people who choose to live in co-ops, um, choose to live in co-ops. They probably have, or think they have, good interpersonal skills & are willing to chip in & share their time preparing meals, maintaining common areas, setting rules & practices, etc.

I'm not saying all homeless people lack those skills, but it is probably fair to say that "plays well with others" is not always among their qualities. Putting the homeless in a community setting -- even for sleepovers -- requires constant supervision and unfortunately rigid rules.

I don't think you've thought this thru.

Marie Burns

Victor said...

Maybe there needs to be a government agency that determines whether a SRO "tiny home" is better, or a communal home, is the best option.

Homeless people can often regain lost social skills once they're around other people - certainly not all of them, but a lot of them.

But, having a government agency do that is SOCIALISM, or FASCISM, or COMMUNISM - or, some other kind of "ism!!!"

No, the Conservatives and Libertarians will say, 'Let the invisible hand of the free market lift these people out of poverty and homelessness' - even though all those people saw of that invisible hand, was a very visible and extended middle-finger.

I'm sure a non-private agency could do the above, but where would the money come from? And the people?

And besides, I'd want the government involved to at least oversee that/those non-profit(s) are doing a good job.

marieburns said...

@Victor. Thanks. I agree. Apparently the goal of the blogger is to do two things: (1) provide shelter & (2) socialize the sheltered. While I acknowledge that both of these are laudable goals, I would wager a guess that perpetually homeless people are quite often agreeable only to (1) above.

It is true that we are social animals & to get by, we must be, whether we want to be or not.

Since I can afford my own accommodations (within certain limitations), I have the freedom to decide what kind of situation I want: city or country, house or condo, own or rent, etc. Each of these choices speaks to the degree of personal privacy I want. That's pretty important to me, as it is to many people. It is an essential component of our strongly-held tradition of a "right to privacy" (yeah, I know that's not in the Constitution).

The financially destitute have many fewer options than I do, but I would hope that -- to some extent -- their essential Greta Garbo-ness could be accommodated. Do-gooders surely have the best interests of the homeless at heart, but what do-gooders think best is not always what the recipients of their largess have in mind. Surely the homeless deserve the same respect as the "homed." A big piece of that respect is allowing the homeless to make some choices that the do-gooders might not think are optimal.


aimai said...

Co housing is not a co-op or commune. Each person owns their own space. But some public areas can be booked or reserved for events.

92dda15c-717c-11e3-b8fb-000bcdca4d7a said...

Did you create this post with a potato?

Mary said...

Layout seems kind of borked on the last two posts:

This post on Chrome (and all my other browsers)

The previous post: The blockquote is on a white block, but doesn't encroach on the sidebar. It uses a sans-serif font. The second quote in the same post looks fine (serif font, background same colour as parent).

FYWP applies, of course.

Mary said...

(Except that this is Blogger. I feel guilty because I use WP and must have infected this poor blog.)

Ten Bears said...

Did you reply with an onion?

aimai said...

I'm sorry if I borked the site. I'll try to go back in and redo it but I'm not sure what happens to the comments if I do. The post below looks fine on both my site and this one. But I admit there is something odd about this post.

aimai said...

But just to get back to the topic at hand its really unclear what kinds of homeless people the Madison project is meant to help. The article says that homelessness has increased 47 percent in 3 years and includes many families--that fast a rate of increase in a place that is cold (as opposed to, say, California) doesn't come about because people are moving in solo for the weather or the benefits. These are probably not people who are homeless because they can't cope with other people. They are probably homeless because of mortgage failures, job loss, and other failures of the housing market or the recession.

Keeping people in homes and preventing homelessness at all should be the first line of defense against creating a damaged, frightened, population. People have lost no "social skills" between having a home and losing it--its after that that things get bad. 47 percent increase over three years? Those are people who were functioning perfectly well pretty recently. If they could have been kept in their homes, or offered safe homes when they were first rendered homeless, that would make more sense.

There's another problem with this model--who owns the tiny house? who is responsible for repairs? For siting it? At least when you rent an apartment or get subsidized or public housing there is a manager who takes some of that responsibility.

I'm not saying there may not be a niche market for this houses, but that there are many, many, issues surrounding them that don't seem to have been thought out. They will only ever be appropriate for a very small number of people.

aimai said...

OK, it looks good to me now, except for one white bar which I will leave in place as a reminder never to post that way again. If its ok for you all leave me a note in the comments. Or just go back to discussing the post.

Victor said...

I love you, aimai!

Don't tell your significant other. :-)

Mary said...

Thanks, aimai! You rock!

(I think the issue might be copying and pasting some invisible code, along with text, from your other blog -- which uses a white background and sans-serif text -- to this one. I find that when invisible code tries to run me over, I copy it into Notepad or the Mac equivalent , then paste into my final destination from Notepad.)

Examinator said...

You're on the right track. The plan isn't well thought through. But then again the West ( particularly the USA)is prone to "instant" answers (as opposed to solutions) to any entrenched or difficult problem.
" out of sight out of mind" mentality so we, who are fortunate can get on with our busy(?) lives.
After all my consumerism is more important ....isn't it?

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