Big problem, tiny solution — but these tiny homes for the homeless just might work.

Even though these tiny houses are as small as backyard sheds, they could make a big difference for homelessness.

Meet 57-year-old Ray Lyall, one of more than 15,000 homeless folks living in Denver.

Photo via Ray Lyall’s Facebook, used with permission.


Ray is a member of a grassroots group called Denver Homeless Out Loud made up of folks who are homeless as well as supporters of the local Denver homeless population. Ray says he's been without a home for nearly three years, and he is most often found at the DHOL office or playing his guitar downtown.

With the cost of living in Denver (and other cities) continuing to rise, affordable housing is a huge issue, especially for those who can’t afford a place to live at all. And while there are many proposed solutions for limiting homelessness, Ray is part of the force behind a very unique and new idea: Creating a tiny home community for Denver’s homeless population.

A completed tiny home in Denver. Photo via DHOL, used with permission.

The tiny houses are only as big as backyard sheds, but some folks think they could make a big difference for homelessness.

Sometime around the late-1990s, minimalist living became trendy, and the tiny house movement was born. Soon after, homeless activists realized that tiny houses could be the perfect storm of a solution: They’re easy to build, cheap, environmentally friendly, and mobile, making them a great option for constructing quickly and inexpensively. It costs about $700 to $1,000 to build a small Conestoga hut, and approximately $2,500 to $5,000 to build a slightly larger tiny house.

Building a tiny house in Denver. Photo via DHOL, used with permission.

Some of the earliest tiny home communities for people experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness started popping up in 2004. You can find projects like the Village of Hope in Fresno, California, and River Haven in Ventura, California. Then, in 2013, Opportunity Village opened in Eugene, Oregon, and Quixote Village launched in Olympia, Washington. More recently, OM Village was constructed in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2014.

But while tiny houses could provide help for homeless people, cities so far have opposed the informal communities.

Denver Homeless Out Loud decided to embrace the small-home strategy in October 2015. They started by building five houses on vacant land, all with full understanding that it was an act of civil disobedience. Not surprisingly, the police were less than thrilled with the impromptu housing development, and on the night of October 24, the Denver Police Department (including the SWAT team) arrested 10 people responsible for the building and coordination of the tiny house community.

Resurrection Village in Denver was named after the “Resurrection City” constructed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Photo via DHOL, used with permission.

Denver isn't alone in this drama: Police have disrupted many of the other tiny home living communities around the country, and government officials aren't thrilled with the idea.

Many folks think tiny homes might not be the perfect solution.

The main concerns against these communities seem to revolve around zoning requirements, building standards, creating a community versus a "ghetto," and resident selection. Some also worry that tiny homes send the message that homeless people are not equal to everyone else.

OM Village in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo via OM Village, used with permission.

An imperfect solution might be better than none at all, however.

“It’s a home, not a shelter. And it’s their home," Ray Lyall explains. "[People] can paint the walls, do whatever they want. We want to give people a 15 by 15 foot plot that is theirs."

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I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

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WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

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Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

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