The Quest To Empower The Homeless, One Tiny House At A Time

Tiny houses are hot among the eco-conscious hipster types these days — the pared-down lifestyle required to live in them discourages consumerism. Not to mention the fact that they’re freaking gorgeous, in a very cozy sort of way. But could tiny houses also help solve the problem of rampant homelessness?

Elvis Summers believes so. The founder of Starting Human and My Tiny House Project L.A. (MYTHPLA) has already built 37 tiny houses for homeless residents of Los Angeles, and isn’t about to stop — in spite of clashes he’s had with everyone from local gang members to the city government.

“Nobody should be homeless,” he told Uproxx. “Especially in one of the richest countries in the world.”

Summers was inspired to build his first tiny house for Irene “Smokey” McGee, a woman who lived in his neighborhood.

“Nobody seemed to care that she was sleeping in the dirt,” he explains. So he did what he felt was right: he went to Home Depot, picked up plywood, and got to work building her a place she could call her own — a place with four walls and a door that locked.

“The housing first model works,” he says. “Give people a safe place to be of their own, and they’re going to be self-motivated to better their lives.”

Homelessness is a huge problem in the U.S., and especially in L.A. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 564,708 people are homeless on a given night in the U.S. Of those, over 46,000 live in Los Angeles and Summers wants to help as many of them as he can, one tiny house at a time. He told NPR that each of his 6- by 8-foot structures costs $1,200 to build and comes equipped with rooftop solar panels, wheels for mobility, and a portable camping toilet.

As Summers explains, what he’s doing goes beyond just helping the less fortunate. It’s actually shaping our society.

How we treat and care for those who are suffering and less fortunate determines what kind of society we are and how our future generations will act. There is no good future for anyone (even the super rich) if we teach hate, ignorance, selfishness and greed by ignoring those who are struggling or buried in poverty, or by making the situation worse for those who are simply just trying to live. The impact is far greater than just that of the struggling person or family, and far greater than just a homeless person struggling to find a place to rest their head. It impacts the entire world and quality of life for all people on the planet and the future generations of all of us.

For now, Summers is doing the best he can, in spite of facing opposition from the city of L.A. Earlier this year, the city confiscated three of the tiny houses and tagged others for removal. Summers was forced to move the houses onto private property. Eventually, he’s hoping he can convince the city to allow the structures to be placed on some of their 7,500 vacant lots. For now, 20 more tiny houses are being built on donated land and Summers is working on creating his first mobile shower unit.

“I’ll always just keep going, keep pushing it out there, and keep trying to reach as many people as I can…It’s just so simple. Food, water, and shelter. They’re not optional for human survival. It’s just the right thing to do.”