Our homeless crisis is a housing crisis ready to be solved | TheUnion.com

Our homeless crisis is a housing crisis ready to be solved

Reinette Senum

Shanty-towns have now become an American reality while federal subsidies to end homelessness have all but disappeared, and building codes and permits have made having a roof over one's head nearly unattainable for some.

Generally, the only way a person of low-income housing can afford housing today is through government subsidies.

Without it, it becomes nearly impossible.

The housing crisis that led to many (illegal) foreclosures pushed former homeowners into rentals. Former renters were pushed out of town, into their cars, RV's or couches, and many, ultimately, into the woods. Combine that with young adults unable to leave their parents' nest and our elderly desperately needing to downsize, one realizes this is not a homeless crisis, but a housing crisis.

While we can chase our tail pushing illegal homeless encampments around in our woods, we are failing to address the root of the problem. Those without homes have nowhere to live because the housing stock simply doesn’t exist. We can do better.

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U.S. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan has called the shortfall in housing "the worst rental affordability crisis this country has ever known." While many in the public argue homelessness is "a choice," it is more about the lack thereof.

The housing shortfall is impacting every corner of our community: schools, hospital, merchants, law enforcement, courts, residents, and visitors, ultimately reducing our community's quality of life.

While we have a Housing Element required by the state of California to provide zoning for high-density (low income) housing, there is no real concerted attempt by our officials to promote incentives for property owners to accommodate this housing shortfall.

Our officials should be going out of their way to meet this unmet demand in housing. Instead, they focus on enforcing stringent building codes and cost prohibitive permits that have eradicated any possibility of housing through smaller and simpler living.

Rather than unsuccessfully forcing the human population to abide by narrowing building codes and housing market, perhaps it's time we alter our own thinking to accommodate the idea of living-space so as to meet the needs of the unhoused — where they are.

If we can't make affordable housing available to all with the current housing stock then we must find more creative solutions to this rising crisis by allowing this community to address the issue on its own terms.

Fortunately, what needs to be done in Nevada County is being done with self-governed Tent Cities and Tiny House Villages throughout the nation. While this paradigm-busting way of living generally is about providing housing for the homeless, it would serve Nevada County to include in this vision young adults, the elderly, and anyone else transitioning in life who needs a place to land. Tents Cities and Tiny House Villages provide access to services such as health-checks and Meals on Wheels, security, autonomy, ultimately making outreach more effective and efficient while building a better sense of community.

In his book "Tent City Urbanism," Andrew Heben writes "The American tent city is a non-violent revolution that directly responds to the absence of place and participation in today's city. Just as formal actors are trying to control space, those with no place else to go are reclaiming it."

One such example is Opportunity Village in Eugene, Ore. — co-founded by Heben — a self-governed community of 30 tiny houses for otherwise unhoused individuals and couples. Today Opportunity Village Eugene has proven a success and is a nonprofit that provides progression from tent to tiny house, from camp to village, and from emergency to transitional and affordable shelter.

These villages are self-organized through democratic meetings and community agreements and provide a foundation for the village model reducing the surrounding neighborhood's anxiety as well as all the risks associated with illegal encampments in the woods, including fire danger.

Tent Cities and Tiny House Villages create a place for solutions where none exist today without the dependency upon government subsidies. In fact, a localized Tiny House Movement would most likely stimulate our local economy and create much needed jobs.

To assist our community in better understanding this vision, local architect and homeless advocate Chuck Durrett is bringing the author of Tent City Urbanism, Andrew Heben, to Nevada City — 7 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Madelyn Helling Library — to speak about the benefits and challenges of such a design, providing one of the first real opportunities for our community to realistically address our housing crisis.

Heben will be discussing permanent vs. temporary, tent city vs. tiny house village, choice of location(s), the politics of tent cities, and much more.

While we can chase our tail pushing illegal homeless encampments around in our woods, we are failing to address the root of the problem. Those without homes have nowhere to live because the housing stock simply doesn't exist. We can do better.

For more information or to underwrite Opportunity Village speaker, Andrew Heben, contact Reinettesenum@gmail.com; for Tiny House Village examples: http://tinyhousevillage.com http://www.fourlightshouses.com/pages/the-napoleon-complex.

Reinette Senum, who lives in Nevada City, is a member of the The Union Editorial Board.

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