Tacoma’s Tiny Home Encampment

by Ella Banken, awesome student writer from School of the Arts

If a local group has its way, a tiny home encampment could be coming to Tacoma.

Tiny home encampments are one of the newest solutions to combating homelessness, and the idea is rapidly spreading. Tiny homes provide a more reliable, semi-permanent housing option for those experiencing homelessness. It offers a private, personal space that is exclusively for the resident and will be available to them at all times. This is a big change from other shelter systems, where it is uncertain if a bed will be available on a day-to-day basis. By having a consistent place to stay, a resident can focus on finding employment and permanent housing instead of worrying about temporary sleeping arrangements.

Project leader, Daniel Johnson, worked with homeless teens in the late 1980’s and then moved into other areas of non-profit work. Recently he was shocked to see the proliferation of tents throughout the downtown and decided to reengage this persistent problem. The tiny home encampment will be the culmination of many projects.

Tiny house project Gannett

Tiny houses being built for a village to house homeless people in Nashville (Gannett)

Johnson has decided to take the next step in combating homelessness. He plans to have an encampment of 12 tiny homes in Tacoma as early as September. Each tiny home will cost about $10,000 for construction and labor costs. According to Johnson, funding is not as big a challenge as finding a location for the 12 homes. A unique public-private partnership will be required.

 Johnson has partnered with Brett DeSantis of Brett Marlo Design Build to construct the tiny homes. Each constructed home will have a porch and a loft, allowing more space for the resident. The tiny homes will mainly be host to single people, due to the size of the house, with a mother and two small children being the maximum occupancy for one home. Johnson and DeSantis have been discussing the possibility of a tiny home encampment for several years now, and are thrilled that the project could finally happen.

The idea for the tiny home encampment stemmed from a group of dedicated people from Johnson’s church, “Next,” simply driving around Tacoma, handing out pizza and blankets to homeless individuals. This project quickly gained traction within Johnson’s community, and soon more than 70 people were contributing and delivering food and care packages to the homeless population every night. The group named themselves “The Next Movement” and they even have a social media presence, with the tag #pizzalove.

           The location of the encampment is still being determined, but he hopes to base it in a central, downtown location so that there are many opportunities available for the tiny home residents. His goal is to build a supportive and beneficial community for those who live there, by providing services like job training that will actually aid individuals in getting their lives back on track. With this new shelter model, the goal is to keep the public involved in this growing community, so that people living in the tiny homes will be integrated into the Tacoma community and are able to feel good about their living situation.

When asked about the outcomes of the project, Johnson said, “The worst thing that could happen is that people become more caring about their neighbors. The best thing that could happen is we provide housing.” With this positive insight, Tacoma is looking forward to its first (and hopefully not last) tiny home encampment.


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