Homelessness is a growing issue that requires an efficient solution. Shelters are no longer as helpful as once believed. Case in point, they often include long waitlists or curfews that may not fit an individual’s schedule. There are also shelters that do not serve women with children, those with pets, or anyone working a night shift. Plus, incidents of threats, violence, harassment and discrimination are not uncommon. Therefore, many people choose the streets over a shelter.  Even so, people have other needs besides a bed that must be met. And creating a community of tiny homes may be the better solution.
Homeless People Can Move into Private Tiny Homes
The homeless population in San Francisco can now move into a village of 64-square-foot tiny homes, each costing only $15,000 to make. The first 30 units opened up downtown between Market and Mission streets, with 40 more on the way. So far, people are eager to try out the new living space.
While shelters evict the residents after one night, these tiny homes temporarily belong to the residents. Their room is their own, including a lockable door, a bed, a desk, a window, and heating. Also, there are communal bathrooms, dining rooms, clinics, a computer lab, and offices to meet with caseworkers. Nonprofit Urban Alchemy provides on-site services. Overall, it costs about $30,000 per person to run the village, making it more economic than some shelters. 
“Everybody sleeping in a tent was given the option that they could stay in a tent, albeit not in this location, they could get placed into a group shelter, or they could have one of these rooms,” said Elizabeth Funk, the founder and executive chairman of the nonprofit Dignity Moves, one of the groups who partnered to create the village. “One hundred percent have said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m definitely moving in.’” 
The units are more like private dorms as opposed to shelters. The tiny homes were erected on an underdeveloped land that could be moved to another location when the landowner wants the property returned. Currently, the village is on land owned by a private developer working on a low-income housing project. But until the owner receives their real-estate entitlements, the city of San Francisco leases the property.
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A Better Alternative to Shelters
These tiny home villages already exist in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Montana, and Boseman. Many projects to help the homeless tend to be temporary solutions, such as shelters providing a bed for one night. However, these tiny homes answer the root of the problem. They can provide people struggling with homelessness to get back on their feet.
“We have to be very careful to say this is not an alternative to permanent housing,” Funk said. “A lot of people who are very flustered are saying, ‘The city is just going to do this and not build permanent housing.’ That’s not an option. That’s not what these are for. This is an alternative to group shelters, especially for people who have gone through trauma, don’t want to be in a group room, and would rather be in their tent to have some privacy.”
Funke has worked as an impact investor for 18 years, more recently working on poverty alleviation and low-income housing in Latin America. But when the pandemic struck, she set her sights on an issue closer to home. She learned that permanent affordable housing is not constructed fast enough to help all of the homeless people on waiting lists, leaving them in a shelter or encampment.
“You go to an encampment and offer somebody a room in a group shelter and you’re lucky if one out of ten will take it,” Funk said. “It started to occur to me: Maybe we’re selling a product nobody wants.”