Around 100 volunteers were out at the Seattle Vocational Institute on Friday to construct eight tiny homes for people experiencing homelessness around the city.
“There's so much preparation and coordination, and making sure everyone knows the logistics...” said Krishna Richardson-Daniels, program and training director for SVI's Pre-Apprentice Construction Training (PACT) program.
SVI is a division of Seattle Central College, and its PACT program prepares students – many minorities from distressed zip codes - for apprenticeship programs with companies that lead to high-paying construction jobs, Richardson-Daniels said. About 65 percent of students get into apprenticeship programs, she said.
PACT students try to construct two tiny houses per quarter, and SVI has been partnering with the Low Income Housing Institute for about six years now to create 150-square-foot tiny houses. Those are provided to villages set up for people experiencing homelessness through a partnership between LIHI and Nickelsville, and provide a better shelter option than tents.
“It gets them out of the cold,” said Josh Castle, LIHI volunteer and advancement manager. “It gets them out of harsh conditions. It gets them out of the rain.”
The tiny houses at the homeless encampments have electricity, and the tiny villages have shared bathrooms and sinks. Castle said one of the most important features for people is the ability to safely store their belongings somewhere.
“It's a really satisfying experience to hand somebody a key,” he said.
PACT student Brittiny Johnson said she's looking for an operators apprenticeship. Before joining the program, she said high school was her last educational experience, and that was 10 years ago. Johnson said she isn't a fan of classrooms, but she likes what she's doing now because there's a lot of hands-on learning.
“This is like the perfect trade for me,” she said, later adding she was a little nervous about Friday's construction project. “This is the first time that I was in a big work environment, because in the classroom it's only five or six of us.”
Johnson said she was inspired by the stories students heard before the project from current tiny house residents about how the structures have improved their quality of life.
“Me, personally, I have experienced homelessness and living in shelters and living in tents,” Johnson said, adding that was just a year ago. “It's just amazing what we're doing here, and I'm proud to be a part of it.”
Richardson-Daniels said PACT sees about 20-25 students come through the program each quarter, but the new director said there's still a month to get next quarter up to her target goal of 35. She said there are already 16 prospective students for the fall quarter.
“There are a number of our students who have just bypassed the apprenticeship and gone on to get high-paying jobs,” she said, though many had construction experience before the PACT program.
Tanika Faircloth finished the program two months ago, and she's now working to get her required licenses. She's working for a temporary trade labor company now, and had come by SVI on Friday to pick up her flagger card.
“They didn't even say stay and help,” she said. “I saw what they were doing, and I like building these houses, so I stayed.”
PACT students also received help building tiny houses Friday from volunteers from private construction companies, faith communities, carpentry apprenticeships, students and LIHI supporters.
The city of Seattle provides public land for permitted homeless encampments around the city, and so far has allowed for six. The Othello Village opened in March 2016, and the Nickelsville Georgetown Village opened a year later, with 38 people living in tiny houses. Licton Springs Village is the first low-barrier encampment, Castle said, and will be evaluated as time goes on.
Castle said the two-year contract deadline for the encampments in Ballard and Interbay are expiring around November, which will require relocation.
“We're looking at a lot of sites,” he said, “and there has to be a community notification with the neighbors.”
Relocation typically has a negative effect on people in these encampments, Castle said, adding neighbors in Interbay want that encampment to stay. He said the longer an encampment is in a neighborhood, the more partnerships can be formed.
There are currently six tiny houses at the Ballard Encampment and only tents at the Interbay Encampment. Once they've relocated, all clients are expected to move from tents and into tiny houses."