On the first truly hot day of the summer, in what used to be a gravel lot, more than two dozen people who didn’t have a place to go just a few months ago are busy making the Licton Springs Tiny House Village a home.
The 30 tiny homes — which feature lights, windows and locks — are arranged in neat rows with a communal kitchen and other amenities in the center. As the temperature tops 85, most of the doors are open and residents are sitting on their stoops or in lawn chairs under umbrellas. There are folks doing normal Sunday things: taking out the trash, picking weeds or walking to the newly installed showers for a chance to cool off.
A man named Elliot tells me he’s spending the day looking for a job. He’s an experienced car detailer and says it’s a lot easier to look when you’ve got a place to stay.
When I ask how long he had to wait to get into a place like this, he thinks about it for a minute.
“About two years,” he says.
I stop in front of a small blue unit where two men are seated outside and ask if I can stop and talk. John and Bike Mike — “everyone knows me as Bike Mike” — have a lot in common. They’re both veterans, they both love bikes, and they both have decades of experience working in commercial painting and construction.
Bike Mike came to Seattle 12 years ago to be near his youngest son.
“I’ve been homeless for a decade. It took me weeks before I could leave this place without all of my stuff with me.”
John nods. Theft, sweeps and loss of property are a part of life for homeless folks. At Licton Springs, John says, he can leave and know his stuff will still be there when he gets back.
In addition to better shelters and a sense of community, John touts the on-site case-management assistance, which Mike says shelters don’t usually have.
Licton Springs is one of six low-barrier villages operated by the Low-Income Housing Institute that’s expressly designed to help transition people out of homelessness — and it’s working. Since moving in, John says he’s just gotten a job. He starts Monday.
“And you’re union?” asks Bike Mike.
“Yup,” says John with a smile. Bike Mike congratulates him and they fist-bump.
John tells me that while no one has transitioned out of Licton Springs in the two months since it’s opened, he’s optimistic.
“They help you out with your housing vouchers and all that,” he explains. “This place has to move in two years. By then, all these people will have places to go.”
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and policy consultant. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, Salon, Fast Company and Vice.
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