Tucson-Area Nonprofit Aims to Build Tiny Homes for Homeless People as Unsheltered Homelessness Continues to Grow

unsheltered homelessness

Advocates and nonprofits in Tucson, Arizona, are raising $1.4 million to operate a tiny home village for the region’s unhoused as federal data shows the number of people sleeping outside continues to grow.

The Homing Project, a nonprofit operated by co-founders Kristin Olson-Garewal and Raj Garewal, told the Arizona Daily Star that the funds would help build 15 homes and provide enough operating capital to keep the village open a year. Each unit is up to 100 square feet and comes with electricity, air conditioning, and heat. The village is designed to serve youths under the age of 25 and people older than 50, according to Olson-Garewal. It also includes shared bathrooms, dining areas, and a laundry unit, according to the nonprofit’s website.

One or two people could live in each unit, Olson-Garewal told the news outlet. She added that the nonprofit has plans to add “many more houses and many more sites” across the region.

“In the long run, we’d like to give all these people who want to come off the streets a place to live,” Olson-Garewal said.

The plans for the tiny home village come as rates of unsheltered homelessness in the Tucson-Pima County area continue to rise.

According to the latest numbers, more than 2,200 people are unhoused in Pima County, representing a 34% increase from 2020. Furthermore, federal data shows that more than 76% of people experiencing homelessness in Pima County are unsheltered compared to 53% of the population that reported living on the streets in 2020.

“Data shows that homelessness remains a national crisis,” said Marcia Fudge, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Local leaders have launched several initiatives to reduce local homelessness, but results have been hard to come by.

For example, Tucson set up a hotline for people to report encampments in the summer of 2022. The city’s housing director added that unhoused people could also use the hotline to find access to nearby shelters or services. 

However, city leaders later admitted that Tucson doesn’t have enough shelter for every person currently sleeping on the streets. The city council is also planning to release a strategy to combat homelessness focused on “cleanliness, not necessarily housing first.”

The city council also adopted an ordinance that prohibited landlords and home sellers from considering an individual’s source of income when they apply to rent a unit or attempt to buy a property. According to local reports, it was designed to help people using Section 8 vouchers at a time when the city’s rents and home prices were both increasing rapidly.

“It just simply makes it unlawful to reject outright someone who has a housing choice voucher,” said Ernesto Portillo, a spokesperson for Tucson’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

However, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the ordinance violated state law in December 2022 and ordered it repealed within 30 days.

Tucson’s city attorney told local news station KGUN that his office is evaluating the order and will “discuss the next steps with the Mayor and Council at the next available meeting.” According to the city’s website, the next meeting is scheduled for today, January 11.

While local officials try to sort out their response, homelessness has become more lethal in Tucson. News outlet KVOA reported in May 2022 that 46 people had died through the first five months of 2022, setting the city on pace to see about 110 deaths for the entire year.

For comparison, about 158 people experiencing homelessness died in 2021, while 125 died in 2020, according to the KVOA report.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Lisa Chastain of Tucson’s Gospel Rescue Mission.

How You Can Help

Building more homes is the key to ending homelessness. Tiny homes are just one solution that can help people experiencing homelessness find stable living situations. They cannot and should not be considered the only solution.

Contact your officials and representatives. Tell them you support making your local building code more accommodating to alternative building types like tiny homes, accessory dwelling units (ADU), or multifamily housing. Homelessness will never be solved with handcuffs. It can only be solved by providing people with stable homes. 

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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