Advocates tackling the nation's homeless problem are thinking small.
In Austin, Texas, a village of 200 tiny houses is being built for the homeless. In upstate New York, Rochester Greenovation has designed a prototype for small-scale individualized shelters. "Homeless No More Survival Pods" have been built in Utah, micropods in Florida, miniature homes in Wisconsin and minimobile houses in California.
The "tiny house movement," once considered merely an architectural component to a downsized life, is now becoming something much bigger: an escape from chronic homelessness.
"This is a plan that could revolutionize the housing movement in the United States," declared Alan Graham, a Texas activist who says his self-founded organization, Community First, has already lifted 100 homeless people off the streets.
"The city of Austin loves us," he said. "They think we're on the verge of breaking the code."
Occupy Madison, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement based in Madison, Wis., finished building its first fully functional tiny house earlier this year. The 98-square-foot structure, complete with a bed, toilet and tiny kitchen, will serve as a template for 40 homes to follow, said Brenda Konkel, an Occupy Madison board member. It is hoped that the project, which depends on volunteer labor and community donations, eventually will end homelessness in the city.
"I think this is a solution for now," said Konkel. "Our first house cost $5,000 to make, and we did it without asking for government help."
But California artist Gregory Kloehn says there's an even cheaper and faster way. For the past several years, Kloehn has single-handedly built small, portable homes using salvaged materials he finds on the street. His cost? Less than $100 each.
"Stuff people just throw away on the street can give someone a viable home," said Kloehn, whose environmentally friendly structures are made of everything from wooden pallets to refrigerator parts. Kloehn's unique, whimsical designs are both artistic ("I make them cute and funny") and practical ("I want them to work well, be strong and watertight").