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Tiny houses and shipping containers may help homeless people. Are they humane?

Carolina A. Miranda, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES — It measures only 8 feet by 8 feet. But to Stephen Smith, the tiny red house in North Hollywood is the place he calls home.

Until early last month, Smith had been living out of his car in locations around the San Fernando Valley, collecting cans from city parks as a way of making spare change. He ended up on the street not through a single event, but a slippery chain of them: the death of his mother last year followed by the pandemic, which left him in an emotional and economic lurch.

"Me and my mom were best friends," he says. "I took it kind of bad."

After a year on the streets, however, Smith was ready for a change. When a caseworker from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority approached him with an offer of shelter over the winter, he took it. "I said, 'Let's get with it,'" he recalls. "God helps those who help themselves. This is Stephen 2.0."

The caseworker connected him with Chandler Street Tiny Home Village in North Hollywood, a shelter that is the first of its kind in Los Angeles.

Instead of a bed in a dorm, Smith was assigned his own freestanding tiny home. The dwelling does not have a bathroom — those are shared, along with a laundry facility and a kitchenette. But otherwise, Smith's space is his own.

 

"I wouldn't change nothing," he says of the structure's design. "I don't see any improvements I could make." Though he does say the village could use more bathrooms.

Chandler Street, which is operated by Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, is an interim housing shelter designed for stays of three to six months — a site that helps clients get back on their feet as they seek other housing. On-site caseworkers assist with basics such as securing paperwork to recover lost IDs, connecting people to basic services, and providing a steady address as they apply for jobs or benefits.

"It's a spot to stabilize," says Laurie Craft, Hope of the Valley's chief program officer. "So that when people move into permanent supportive housing, the result is good."

Smith's first order of business is getting his cellphone turned back on so that he can be ready to work. His dream is a gig in car restoration. His specialty: "Anything GM."

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