I have been asked many times why I believe tiny houses and small (pocket) neighborhoods are a great solution for getting chronic homeless people off the streets and into a place they can actually call home (at least for a while). There are many reasonswhich are based on years of research and working with chronic homeless individuals and communities. Some are based on economic factors and some for social reasons. For the most part, though, I am working from a vision God gave me several years ago. As I present each reason, I will explain the biblical perspective I am drawing on.
Before I get started, let me first explain what my concepts are for the tiny houses and small houses we want to build.
A tiny temporary respite house is a simple, stick-built structurally sound, weatherproof, one room dwelling on a concrete foundation between 100 and 200 square feet in size where one individual can feel safe behind a locked door, store his or her belongings, and sleep. Each house will include a bed, couch, clothes closet, heat/air unit, small refrigerator, and a microwave oven. These dwelling could be considered akin to a boarding house style of living.
A small permanent supportive house is a stick-built structurally sound, weatherproof, multi-room dwelling on a concrete foundation bewteen 300 and 700 square feet in size where an individual or family can turn the house into a permanent home. Each house will have a living area, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom(s).
Builidng Tiny Houses
Cost to build
Based on two estimates received from local San Angelo building contractors, our tiny houses can be built for approximately $80 per square foot with volunteers and donated materials. This means that a 120 square foot house can be built for approximately $10,000. This type of cost will enable us to ask churches, businesses and other organizations to donate the money, materials and/or labor to build one tiny house.
I have been asked several times why we don’t build four-plex units or apartments. Their argument is that it would be more compatible with the city’s neighborhood revitalization plan. All of these would require hiring a building contractor because the scope of the work would be beyond the abilities of volunteers and far too costly for churches and businesses to participate. San Angelo’s average construction cost exceeds $200 per square foot, which would require borrowing a large sum of money from a bank or other financial institution. We do not want to begin any project in debt, taking away money that could be used for providing services to our clients.
It’s also been suggested that we buy and rennovate an older run down motel/hotel or other building that is a blight to the surrounding neighborhood. To rennovate, we would most likely incur the additional costs of having to deal with removing asbestos and lead paint before any remodeling could begin. So now, we would incur the initial purchase cost, asbestos and lead paint abatement, and the remodeling costs. Again, this would require borrowing a large sum of money for the project. Additionally, we would be limiting the number of people we can help based on the number of rooms available in the structure.
Debt is a form of slavery – “…the borrower is a slave to the lender.” Proverbs 22:7
Generosity blesses bot the giver and the recipient – “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25
The mindset of most people is to “buy now and pay later” or “smart people use other people’s money”. On the other hand, God’s desire is for us to use minimal debt or no debt [Deuteronomy 28:1-14], by saving for future needs, rather than borrowing [Proverbs 21:20]. God has promised that He alone will meet our needs. “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:19].
Easier to build
Tiny homes can be built very quickly, usually in a few weeks. This permits us to build houses on demand and have someone housed within 30 to 60 days. With enough volunteers, we can also build several houses at the same time. We will not be able to garner the knowledge, experience, and community unity if a contractor must be hired to build any other type of structure (duplex, quad-plex or apartments). They are easy to build by volunteers who have no or some apprentice level construction experience and can work under the supervision of a licensed contractor.
Building simple yet efficient tiny temporary respite houses or small permanent supportive houses gives people (volunteers and future occupants) an opportunity to participate in the physical work involved in the construction process. New skills will be learned and the satisfaction of being a part of the work builds people’s confidence, sense of community, and can strengthen a person’s faith.
Proverbs 14:23 All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.
Galatians 6:2-5 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.
Easier to maintain
Helping to build a house will give each future occupant a better understanding of their house’s construction which should build their confidence to make minor repairs. This also makes maintaining their small space, both interior and exterior, as well as the five feet of grounds surrounding each structure not such a daunting or overwhelming task, especially for people who have mental or physical limitations.
Proverbs 24:3-4 By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
So why am I addressing the issue of minimalism? Because it has been my experience that when a chronic homeless person is finally living in a stable environment (temporary or permanent), they begin hoarding stuff – clothes, shoes, food, and whatever else they can obtain for free or by stealing it. None of the stuff they collect makes them any more content. Many times, it actually causes them more stress because they start worrying about – “What happens when I run out of space for all of this stuff?”
Two of the leaders in the online minimalism space are Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (http://www.theminimalists.com). Here’s how they define minimalism: “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” Although this is a secular view, it is not very far off from what the Bible teaches us about stewardship, possessions, contentment, relationships, and blessings.
Christ wants us to live a full life in Him alone, and to do that, we must understand that every possession we have is a blessing from Him. He wants us to be grateful for what we have and not covet what we don’t have! Understanding that allows us to find our identity and fulfillment in Him and to be content with what we have.
Minimalism is not Christianity. You can follow Jesus and still own some nice stuff. But the ideas behind minimalism are helpful for examining where your heart is when it comes to that stuff.
Jesus says in Luke 12:15 (ESV): “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”
Here’s a quotae from Friar David B. Couturier of the School of Franciscan Studies in New York, “Living simply allows others to simply live. Minimalism isn’t a way of rejecting nature or people. It isn’t a rebellion against excess in and of itself; it is a way of protecting relationships that have been compromised by greed and violence.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains how we should live among material possessions: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” (Matthew 6:19–21 NASB).
It’s important that we prevent residents from isolating themselves from the other residents in the community. That’s why each neighborhood has a community center and the tiny temporary respite houses do not have toilets nor running water. The community center is designed to pull people out of their shells to interact with other people. Being in community gives everyone the chance to be around people and to bear their burdens alongside of them (Galatians 6:2). Everyone has something to teach and to learn. In fact, it creates the ideal environment to be a Barnabas (friend), pursue a Paul (teacher), or train a Timothy (student).
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25 NIV).
Psalm 133:1 (NIV) tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
Community is life-giving because we’re better together than we are alone (Romans 12:4–5).
Chronicly homeless people have usually lost everything that made the world a safe, predictable and ordered place. Some of these losses, which living in community retores, includes their loss of self-esteem and identity, their loss of connection to people, and their loss of a support network.