BSB Design With Joppa are Designing a ‘Tiny-Home’ Village for Homeless Iowans
“Des Moines homeless advocates say it will ‘take a village’ to stop the cycle of homeless camps that pop up along the rivers and in the woods near downtown,”reported the Des Moines Register, April 6, 2016.
When asked over a year ago to help Joppa (a nonprofit that provides services to homeless residents) develop a transitional housing solution for the roughly 100 ‘unsheltered’ people in the Des Moines area, it was an obvious extension of BSB Design’s long-held passion for ‘helping to provide affordable housing solutions wherever needed around the world.’
Driven by the founding belief that “everyone deserves to live in a home designed by an architect,” BSB Design developed Abōd® Shelters in 2006 and is active with organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity.
If that’s what it takes, BSB teamed up with Joppa to design a village.
Village block shown: 400’ x 400' on 3.7 acres. 200’ diameter circular with pedestrian walking path and fifty 8’ wide Sleeping Cabins (96 sq.ft.)
Two public building combinations (Storm shelter rated construction): 1. Toilet and bathing facility and 2. Meeting and dining facility
Sustainability measures: Central community garden, chicken coop and bee hives.
50-unit community - central garden view.
View of bathhouse, bee hives and covered sitting shelter area.
View of covered sitting shelter area, bathhouse, bee hives and community garden.
Community building and dining facility.
A schematic rendering of the tiny homes that would make up Joppa's tiny home village.
BSB Design concept for 8’ x 12’ Sleeping Cabin - 12’ x 12’ with covered front porch.
Example of 96 SF "Alaska Closets" Tiny Home.
Brian Bishop housing plan for Haiti.
When Joppa and the BSB Design team first started talking about a new shelter solution, it was about designing a tiny home. But through on-going discussions with activists, city leaders and the homeless themselves, the plan has evolved. With the help of BSB Design community designers and architects, Joppa is now proposing an entire 50-home ‘planned community.’
“Don’t think Section 8 or a shantytown,” Joppa founder Joe Stevens said. “This is a planned community.”
Group wants tiny-home village to serve homeless
They’ve crafted a detailed proposal for city leaders to consider. Joppa wants to build a village of roughly 50 tiny homes — each about 100 square feet — to provide transitional housing to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
The concept had gained some momentum at City Hall. But after a potential site in the River Bend neighborhood drew criticism from residents, plans hit a roadblock. Joppa officials hope to get the conversation started again. They want Des Moines to join a growing number of U.S. cities that have established tiny-home villages.
They say it would provide a safe space for people seeking jobs, security and independence. Their next step is convincing community leaders that a permanent village offers more upside than repeatedly clearing out tent cities only to have them reappear elsewhere.
“The city has made the choice to ignore this topic,” said Amy Hunold-VanGundy, a Joppa volunteer who has spent more than 1,000 hours working on the tiny-homes concept. “You’ve evicted 100 people (from camps). We need to know where they can go.”
Tent camps an ongoing issue
Homelessness threatens more than 1,200 people in the Des Moines area, according to numbers from the Institute for Community Alliances. That includes people staying in shelters and others in transitional or long-term housing offered by nonprofits.
Based on the latest count, there are roughly 100 people who are “unsheltered,” meaning they live in tents, under bridges or inside vehicles. But that number could be even higher. Many people living in illegal homeless camps avoid service providers for fear of being evicted, Joppa officials say.
Des Moines has battled unsightly homeless camps for years — clearing them out only to have them reappear elsewhere in the city.
Those who live in tents typically congregate in small groups on public land near the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers. The camps accumulate trash, human waste and eventually garner complaints.
That’s when city officials post eviction notices and public workers clear the camps out. The homeless campers migrate to other locations and the process starts again.
“It’s sort of constant,” said Phil Delafield, director of community development with the city. “They should go into safe, secure sanitary houses. And the resources need to be provided … moving them from shelter to woods to shelter is certainly not a viable option.”
‘This is a planned community’
Joppa officials want to start with 50 tiny homes. Each costs about $5,000 to build and comes with a secure door, windows and electricity. There is a bed, table and chairs, and storage space.
“Don’t think Section 8 or a shantytown,” Joppa founder Joe Stevens said. “This is a planned community…”
A community building would include shared bathrooms, a meal site, laundry and other essential services.Additional plans call for a shared garden and work spaces. A resident council and Joppa staff member would help oversee the gated village and make sure residents followed its zero-tolerance policy on drugs and violence. Alcohol likely would be banned.
Joppa officials say the village, much like a homeless shelters, would create a central location where nonprofits could funnel resources and services. It would be designed specifically for people looking for work and a chance at stability. The goal would be to move residents to more permanent housing within six to 24 months.
Joppa’s long-range plans call for two more tiny-home villages: an emergency shelter village for those living in tent camps, and another with larger, 300-square-foot homes for couples and individuals working toward home ownership.
“It’s all about independence,” Hunold-VanGundy said. “We’re trying to illuminate a path for them.”
Tiny homes catch on elsewhere
Tiny homes are a growing phenomenon across the country.
Joppa studied communities in Portland, Ore.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Austin, Texas. Representatives visited a village in Madison, Wis., and they’re planning another trip to study the Community First village in Austin.
Community First will move dozens of people into tiny homes later this year. The 27-acre property already houses about 40 formerly homeless people in renovated RVs and “canvas-sided cottages.”
“We essentially purchased a property and built a 27-acre community” with capacity for 250 residents, said Thomas Aitchison, communications coordinator for Mobile Loaves and Fishes, the nonprofit behind the project.
Community First shares a fence line with an established residential neighborhood. It’s located just outside the Austin city border, about 7 miles from downtown. The organization could not get approval from city leaders to build the village inside city limits.
“That’s where they met the most resistance,” Aitchison said. “Basically your general ‘not in my backyard.'”
Plan hits roadblock in D.M.
That’s a familiar problem for tiny homes supporters across the country, and it’s the primary obstacle standing in Joppa’s way in Des Moines.
The group began sharing its vision with Des Moines officials a year ago. Those conversations showed promise. City officials told Joppa they would consider making the building and zoning changes needed to accommodate the tiny homes.
City Manager Scott Sanders even identified a potential location for the first village. He pointed advocates to 6-acre lot owned by the city in an industrial area along with Des Moines River. The site is north of downtown beside the River Bend neighborhood.
Then word started to spread and neighbors began to voice opposition to a homeless village in their neighborhood.
“The feedback I’m getting from them is they don’t really need to have that down there,” said Councilman Bill Gray, who represents the neighborhood. “I truly have to follow what the constituents of Ward 1 want.”
Sander put the brakes on the village, citing a lack of “political will.” He said further discussion will depend the city’s elected officials. Stevens and Hunold-VanGundy called it a disappointing setback. “This has turned into a political issue. But it’s not a political issue,” Hunold-VanGundy said.
More space needed
The average homeless person costs taxpayers $40,000 a year in Polk County, according to a 2009 Polk County Homelessness Coordinating Council report. That includes the cost of food programs, hospital care, law enforcement demands, shelter and other social services.
Joppa argues that the tiny-home village could reduce the cost to taxpayers by charting a path to productive citizenship and rehabilitation. “They’ll have a home with us. They’ll have a community. They’ll have a neighborhood and they’ll have a job,” Hunold-VanGundy said.
The village could also alleviate overcrowding in the city’s shelters. Central Iowa Shelter and Services in downtown Des Moines, the state’s largest shelter, regularly operates 30 percent above capacity, with dozens of people sleeping in chairs after its 150 beds fill up each night.
“CISS has been over 100 percent (capacity) for far too long,” said Melissa O’Neil, CEO at the shelter.
The facility limits overnight stays to 90 consecutive days per individual. After that, a person must stay away for 90 days before returning to the shelter. CISS may begin enforcing a cap on the number of people it takes in each day to prevent the facility from deteriorating, according to O’Neil, who took charge of the shelter in February.
She has met with Stevens to review the tiny-homes concept. “It’s an exciting solution that at least one organization has come up with,” O’Neil said. “Let’s explore it.”