In the Pacific Northwest, people with nowhere else to go are forming micro-communities with communal kitchens and toilets but teeny, individual sleeping units. Could tiny homes, once the provenance of design blogs, help curb homelessness nationwide?
A steady rain beat down outside, but in the small, cluttered stand-alone structure that serves as the administrative office for Dignity Village — a 14-year-old tent city turned semipermanent experimental housing community on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon — Mitch Grubic was snug and dry, albeit a bit chilly.
He fingered an unlit cigarette he’d just pawned from his girlfriend, Debbie, with whom he shares one of 43 roughly 10-by-12-foot “tiny homes” at Dignity. Grubic, a handsome, ruddy-faced 51-year-old, was recounting how he went from being a California carpenter doing high-end residential work to living in his Ford Bronco with his two dogs and $1,400 to his name, desperately seeking pickup work along the Oregon coast.
Turns out, how Grubic got from that particular A to B wasn’t too different from how many of his Dignity neighbors got there: After Grubic’s dad died in 2007, Grubic remodeled his dad’s Northern California house and sold it, buying his own place nearby. But then the 2008 recession hit, his work dried up, and he had to let go of his new house. He built himself a low-cost hunting lodge but ran afoul of local authorities regarding permits. So he sold most of his tools and drove north, into Oregon.