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Guest Commentary in the Chico Enterprise-Record About What's Working With Tiny Homes

CHAT was very pleased to have CHAT Board Member Charles WIthuhn's guest commentary about the widespread success of tiny home villages printed in a recent edition of the Chico Enterprise-Record. The entire article is printed below:

May 12th, 2020: The City of Chico declared a Shelter Crisis, October 2018, because there was a significant number of people unable to obtain shelter, and as a result they are suffering. It’s been 19 months and it’s only gotten worse.

As bad as COVID is, it can be argued that our housing crisis may precipitate more deaths in Chico than COVID. It certainly has so far. Furthermore, our housing crisis, combined with the Camp Fire that destroyed over 14,000 homes, will last longer than COVID. Our housing crisis has become so severe, it now compounds very serious public health threats.

We know how to end homelessness. Build enough truly affordable homes. Look at what’s working. An efficient response to our current housing challenge would be to follow successful models that offer the most amount of homes, in the least amount of time, for the least amount of money. Let’s get people inside so they can self isolate. This is something we can do.

Look at what Yuba County did. In 2016, Yuba County declared a Shelter Crisis and in just three months they established a tiny home village called 14 Forward. This village project was the recipient of a 2018 California State Association of Counties (CSAC) Challenge Award, which spotlights the most innovative programs in county government. In April of 2019, the CSAC recognized 14 Forward for having helped so many people. Marysville’s Police Chief Arron Easton called it “…a very positive difference.”

Look at what Medford did. An August 2019 column by the editorial Board of the local newspaper was under the headline: “Medford Can Be Proud Of Hope Village”. “…our fair city played host on Thursday to mayors of 40 communities from around the state who came for a tour of Hope Village, the 30-unit tiny-house development that offers temporary shelter to homeless people … started in 2017 with 14 units, each 8 feet by 10 feet, plus a communal kitchen, laundry and shower facilities.” Operating under a one-year agreement with the city, Hope Village proved its worth, and in less than a year, the City Council approved doubling the size of the village and signed a new, two-year agreement with Rogue Retreat, the nonprofit organization that operates the project.” Medford P.D. Deputy Chief Scott Clauson said that their tiny home village for the homeless, Hope Village, has not caused any increase in crime. “I really honestly feel it’s been a good thing.”

In Eugene, Oregon, the last time Opportunity Village’s lease came up for renewal before the City Council it was approved on the “Consent Agenda.” They don’t debate it there anymore. Their tiny home villages are accepted as a good idea. They recently opened their third village. Eugene Police Lieutenant, Erik Klinko, when asked about Opportunity Village said he has noticed, “a slight decrease in the amount of crime.”

Other cities that have successful tiny home villages include but are not limited to: Austin, Texas; Dallas; Oakland; San Jose; Sonoma; Portland (three tiny home villages); Denver; Madison, Wisc.; Reno; Fresno; Ventura; Detroit; Washington D.C.; New York (2), Tallahasee, Fla. and Seattle (10).

An investigation by The Guardian in Seattle and Portland, of organized homeless villages found that their presence was not generally accompanied by a rise in crime. “In fact, crime was likelier to go down.”

Tiny home villages represent a model that potentially can be an efficient means to get very low income people off the street. CHAT can make one work here.

Our current circumstances warrant a new evaluation of our priorities. We can reduce homelessness and make our community more pandemic resistant. CHAT has a plan. We have a crisis.

Support CHAT’s Tiny Home Village Project.  It will be good for our community.

Charles Withuhn is on the board of directors of the Chico Housing Action Team.

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