Tiny houses eyed as solution for homeless

By BAY STEPHENS/Montana State News

The tiny home movement has been gathering momentum in recent years and now those wrestling with homelessness in Bozeman might ride the wave with the endorsement of The Community Affordable Housing Advisory Board (CAHAB).

“Our mission is to build self-governing community of residence living in single-living community homes,” said Connie Campbell-Pearson, a deacon with St. James Episcopal Church, in a recent presentation to CAHAB. She is heading up the project with the support of her church and, likely, the city at her back.

Half of the homeless population in Bozeman, Campbell-Pearson said, are transitionally homeless, for which the Warming Center works well in providing a safe and warm place to sleep while individuals sort things out. The other half are chronically homeless, living on the streets for one to two years with a risk of death.

Based on information from other cities, Campbell-Pearson estimated that each homeless individual costs the city $45,000 in forms such as extra police and hospital bills from trips to the emergency room. This community could potentially lower that cost to $15,000 with tiny houses.

Each tiny house would be a single unit with it’s own bed and bathroom area but no kitchen. The units will be between 130 and 399 square feet, the typical size of a tiny house.

For some perspective, the average American home is 2,600 square feet, according to The Tiny Life, a website guide to tiny house living. So, in terms of square footage, six 400 square-foot houses could fit inside the average American home. With 130 square feet, 20 houses could fit.

There are some hurtles at this point in the process. The site Campbell-Pearson hopes to lease from the city, Edgerly Lane near the Warming Center, was once a landfill, so there is the potential for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are often found percolating in the soil of such sites.

Ralph Johnson, a Montana State University architecture professor who accompanied Campbell-Pearson, said that the units would sit 18 inches above ground, so there wouldn’t be any need to break ground for foundations. He also said that they had been able to cover a similar site in Anaconda with plastic and asphalt to mitigate the dangers of VOCs above ground.

The other hurtle is cost with each unit at $10,000 if no materials are donated, but Campbell-Pearson was confident that there would be some donations.

She thinks the potential savings will propel the City of Bozeman to lend a hand: “If we can afford a half million-dollar animal shelter, we can afford this project. And I love my animals.”

For now, CAHAB has endorsed the investigation of the Edgerly site for VOCs that would make the location unusable.

Though CAHAB can only recommend to the City Commission, the committee members were excited about the project. Board member Anders Lewendal spoke for the committee when he said that he would support the tiny house project even if the Edgerly property is not an appropriate site.

– edited by Amanda Grover

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