Micro tiny homes: An unusual take on emergency shelter potentially on its way to Santa Cruz
Alekz Londos created a small number of microshelters for the unhoused last year and is working to dramatically increase that in 2022. While some have expressed uncertainty about the structures, Londos says they’re better than the ground: “People dying on the streets don’t have time … we need tiny homes.”
When 43-year-old Ryan first came across what appeared to be a hollowed-out electrical utility box in downtown Santa Cruz, he found it a welcome, if unexpected, shelter.
“I couldn’t really walk, so I was laid up in it for two days — I’ve been in it now for three to four months,” said the native Santa Cruzan, adding that he’s lived on the streets on and off over the past decade. “It’s saved me from the weather, keeping my stuff safe … it’s been a blessing for sure.”
In the past year, Alekz Londos has created and given away two of the 8-foot-by-4-foot structures — which are lockable, insulated and movable — and hopes to deploy hundreds more of the micro tiny homes in 2022. About 20 people volunteered last weekend to help with the project, and he and others say momentum is growing for the unusual idea.
“There’s just no affordable housing — I’ve seen this situation continue to get worse over the years, and it’s really frustrating and sad,” Londos said. “Not only does it lower the quality of life for the people affected, it makes our community look horrible and it’s not the way things should be.”
Idea to reality
Londos, who has dealt with his own housing issues, said he used his experiences sleeping in Santa Cruz’s bike lockers as inspiration. Each unit costs approximately $950 to build and takes about 60 hours to construct.
“These are smaller, don’t take up as many resources, they’re easier to build, they’re more environmentally friendly,” he said. “I wanted to do something creative that was artistic so the community would accept it. … I wanted to do something that would get people’s attention and get them to think about homelessness.”
Londos said the units are meant to be an emergency solution, with priority given to the elderly, people with disabilities or the injured. He said almost everyone he’s spoken to would prefer a micro tiny home to a tent.
“I can’t imagine it would be much different in other places,” he said. “There are a lot of advantages to these.”
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Earlier this year, the project caught the attention of Jason Samson. In the months since he and Londos connected, the pair have hosted bimonthly volunteer events.
“I’ve had about 120 people over at my house over the last few months to help build, and now I’m in the process of creating an organization,” said Samson, who lives in San Jose. “Right now, what we’ve been focused on is creating a community and teaching folks that there is an opportunity to create these units.”
At the most recent Saturday session, nearly two dozen people came to Samson’s home to help with painting, door fitting and solar-panel installation on seven new units.
Emily Meehan, a Santa Cruz-based artist, attended the event to paint the outside of one of the homes, her second time with the group. Meehan herself has experienced homelessness and other housing issues, and felt it was important to support others as much as she could.
“It’s no big deal to give two to three hours of my time on a Saturday,” she said. “Having the opportunity to be of service in this way … this is a gift to participate in.”
Reactions from the unhoused and city officials
Though Londos said the response he has received has been overwhelmingly positive, some people living in the Benchlands adjacent to the San Lorenzo River and in downtown Santa Cruz said this week that they had concerns.
A 57-year-old man who gave his name as Panther said he has helped build the structures and would like to have one himself. Still, he said he didn’t know where he would be allowed to leave one, or if the city would permit a stable place for them to be.
Others referred to the homes as “isolation cells” or called them an “aluminum can.” One man said that — at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds — the home would be more of a storage shed than anything else.
Lee Butler, Santa Cruz’s deputy city manager, said that while the desire to help the unhoused is laudable, the micro tiny homes aren’t a long-term solution.
“These structures provide minimal living and storage space for the individuals, and the manner in which they have been deployed, such as on downtown sidewalks, has created concerns,” he said. “The city is taking alternative approaches — approaches that are working to provide more holistic solutions that ultimately lead to stable housing.”
But Londos said no agency, governmental or otherwise, is doing enough — and certainly not quickly enough.
“Homelessness is an emergency crisis — we are not adapting to protect the people on the streets, it is morally not right,” he said. “People dying on the streets don’t have time for bureaucracy, politics and red tape. We need tiny homes.”
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Londos believes he, Samson and their corps of volunteers will be able to make up to 200 new units in 2022, which they aim to distribute in San Jose, Santa Cruz and other Bay Area cities. He said they are working with nonprofits to help fund the project as well as asking for direct donations; last week, the group received an anonymous donation of $3,200.
“Whatever solutions we implement here, we hope other people implement them in their cities and counties, and solve homelessness where they are at,” Londos said. “We need to work on solutions collectively and help with our transition toward a caring society.”