By Paul Huggins
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – A tiny idea could be a big solution for helping Huntsville solve its homeless problem.
During a Huntsville City Council work session on Wednesday, Nicki Beale, founder of Foundations for Tomorrow, gave a proposal for building small homes, less than 500 square feet, that could provide a safe, dry community for homeless people to replace tent cities, while also costing 68 percent less than building conventional housing shelters.
A tiny home, usually built on a trailer, can be built for $5,000 to $10,000, she said, noting she has seen one tiny home community of 30 units built for $100,000. Foundations for Tomorrow will have a 3-D model provided by Mind Gear ready next week and hopes to have its first tiny house built by Christmas.
“All I need from you guys is one acre of land that meets my site criteria,” Beale said. She explained the site must be near the key agencies that support the homeless, and also added that the city would have to work with her on navigating zoning laws, some of which would need to be changed.
There are size restrictions on houses unless they are built on trailers, she said, but Huntsville only allows trailers in trailer parks, and a new trailer park would have to be outside the city limits.
The United States currently has 10 functioning tiny home communities, Beale said, and all of them had to work around zoning laws.
The work session focused entirely on the Huntsville homeless issue, which was heightened after a homeless man, Mark Pridmore, died after being savagely beaten outside a University Drive convenience store on Sept. 4.
Representatives of 13 agencies, such as the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, Manna House, Riah Rose Home For Children, WellStone Behavioral Health, and Operation Standdown shared their service success stories and daily challenges.
Lynn Bullard, board member for the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, said the January count showed 536 homeless people, and of those about 200 are on the streets.
She supported the idea of the tiny homes and said providing safe housing for the homeless is a more affordable way to address the issue in the long run, even if the city picks up the entire cost.
“We’re spending more money on emergency rooms than we’d ever spend on housing,” Bullard said, noting the homeless use the ERs for routine health issues, such as spider bites, and often a basic illnesses like the flu becomes pneumonia from sleeping outside.