Tiny houses arrive for new homeless village in Tacoma. Residents to move in soon

VIDEO: Tiny homes for homeless coming to Tacoma

TACOMA, Wash. — Tiny homes were delivered from Seattle to Tacoma on Thursday for the new micro village for homeless people at 602 N. Orchard Street, which will open in December.

The village consists of 40 units serving no more than 60 individuals facing homelessness. The idea for the village was brought forward in September.

The structures were built by volunteers and delivered by truck to First Christian Church, which is partnering with the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and the city of Tacoma to use its property for the shelter.

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“We have been aware that there is an increased need for affordable housing, and for temporary housing for those who find themselves on the streets — a hand up, if you will, to help people get back into permanent housing,” said the Rev. Barbara Blaisdell, senior pastor at First Christian Church. She added that the individuals who will live at the site have not been selected.

Blaisdell said the church has spent thousands helping people without housing, but the need is growing.

“We didn’t have the skills or the finances to simply do that, and so we’ve been looking for quite a while for partners who had more expertise and more ability to help us,” Blaisdell said in an interview on Thursday. “What we knew we brought was space. And we were delighted to discover the Low-Income Housing Institute last year ... We could not do this without them and without the city.”

The village is the second of its kind in Tacoma. A 22-unit micro village was built in December 2019 at 802 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in response to a growing encampment down the street at People’s Park. That village was moved to East 60th Street and McKinley Avenue in July, doubling in size from 22 units to 50.

Tacoma City Council member John Hines visited the First Christian Church site on Thursday to see the structures come in. His house is just up the street from the shelter.

Hines said homelessness and affordable housing repeatedly show up in public surveys as concerns in Tacoma.

“It’s an opportunity to really provide some housing for people experiencing homelessness,” he said of the shelter. “It’s a group that’s our most vulnerable — women with children, single women. To get them off the streets and to get them on a path forward in their lives ... I think that’s a really valuable thing for the community.”

ABOUT THE SHELTER

The shelter will open before Christmas with enough funding to operate through July 2023. That timeline could be extended, based on available funding and other factors.

John Brown, LIHI project manager for the site, said the shelter will serve women, couples and families, including children. There will be various amenities, including a communal kitchen, bathrooms, showers and laundry.

“We’re gonna have some case managers that are going to be helping the individuals with any of their needs as far as seeking housing, resumes, jobs, day care, health care,” Brown said. “So that’s what the case managers will be doing, and the main goal here is to assist them with getting their feet on the ground into permanent housing.”

The new shelter costs roughly $2.2 million — $314,960 for development and $1,926,656 for operations — through the course of its contract. The city also will pay First Christian Church $3,000 per month throughout the course of the agreement. For a 2.5-year agreement that’s about $90,000.

It’s a costly price tag for some, who’ve asked City Council in public comments to consider piloting alternative, less costly projects, like “Safe Parking” lots or sanctioned encampments.

Hines acknowledged the cost is a bit high, but that it includes services beyond just a place to stay. He also thinks about the children who will be staying there.

“I think it is more of an investment, because the more children we help and their families to get out of homelessness, that creates really long-term benefits for our city,” Hines said.

Some of the residents living at Disciples Terrace, a low-income senior housing facility directly across the street from the shelter, have concerns about the property.

Peter Sluka, 80, is one of the residents there. He said he believes all people should have a safe place to sleep but questions the safety of the site. He worries there could be theft on the senior housing property or other crimes.

Sluka, who used to be a teacher, said he knows the village will have 24-hour security but worries it won’t be enough.

“I don’t think they’re going to be able to keep an eye on them all the time like they probably should do,” he said.

Sluka also said the residents of Disciples Terrace weren’t given any notice about the property.

“A lot of people were shocked because we never heard one little remark about this from them,” he said.

Sluka’s concerns aren’t uncommon. City officials have fielded similar worries over the past year about the micro shelters in Central and Eastside Tacoma.

The city compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers to address the concerns. Anyone who stays at the village must adhere to a code of conduct, which prohibits drugs, alcohol, marijuana, weapons or violence of any kind.

The shelter is being built under the city’s emergency declaration related to homelessness, which gives the city the authority to continue to expedite contracting, permitting and budget processes.

People are invited to join the Community Advisory Committee, which meets monthly to review operations and progress of the village, address questions, concerns and ideas from the public, and provide advisory input, according to the city.

Hines said he’s been in many phone calls and meetings with concerned constituents.

“I think most people, whether — I don’t know if they’ve accepted it — but have come to terms and feel better about what we’re doing here,” he said. “It’s been very pleasant for me to have these conversations and see people kind of warm up a little.”

Many have expressed their support and asked how they can help with the project. Those who are interested in helping prepare the tiny houses can contact LIHI’s Amanda Eason at amanda.eason@lihi.org. Donations of warm clothing, shelf stable foods, blankets, bedding, towels, hygiene products and laundry detergent also are welcome and can be made by contacting Lidya Stamper at lidya.stamper@lihi.org.

With the tiny homes now in place, Blaisdell said, she and volunteers are prepping them for people to move in.

“We are working next week to put beds together and hang curtains and get the homes ready for folks,” she said. “... It’s getting cold. People need to be under cover, in the warm.”