Tiny houses grow as way to help homeless

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MADISON, Wis.

While tiny houses have been attractive for those wanting to downsize or simplify their lives for financial or environmental reasons, there's another population benefiting from the small-dwelling movement: the homeless.

There's a growing effort across the nation from advocates and religious groups to build these compact buildings because they are cheaper than a traditional large-scale shelter, help the recipients socially because they are built in communal settings and are environmentally friendly due to their size.

"You're out of the elements, you've got your own bed, you've got your own place to call your own," said Harold "Hap" Morgan, who is without a permanent home in Madison. "It gives you a little bit of self-pride: This is my own house."

He's in line for a 99-square-foot house built through the nonprofit Occupy Madison Build, or OM Build, run by former organizers with the Occupy movement. The group hopes to create a cluster of tiny houses like those in Olympia, Wash., and Eugene and Portland, Ore.

Many have been built with donated materials and volunteer labor, sometimes from the people who will live in them. Most require residents to behave appropriately, avoid drugs and alcohol and help maintain the properties.

Still, sometimes neighbors have not been receptive. Linda Brown, who can see the proposed site for Madison's tiny houses from her living room window, said she worries about noise and what her neighbors would be like.

"There have been people who have always been associated with people who are homeless that are unsavory types of people," she said.

Organizer Brenda Konkel hopes to allay neighbors' concerns by the time the city council votes in May on the group's application to rezone the site of a former auto body shop to place the houses there. Plans include gardens, a chicken coop and possibly beehives and showers and bathrooms in the main building.

The group has already built one house that's occupied by a couple and parked on the street. A volunteer moves it every 24 or 48 hours as required by city ordinances.

The house, which cost about $5,000, fits a double bed with overhead storage, a small table and a small room with a compostable toilet. There's no plumbing or electricity, but the home is insulated and has a propane heater to get the residents through the harsh Wisconsin winters.


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