Written for The Argus Observer, published on March 19,2015.
A group of locals are walking from Ontario to Farewell Bend Friday to raise money for a grassroots project to build small houses for the city’s homeless and transient population, as well as migrant workers.
The walk begins at 9 a.m. and those interested are invited to meet at the Beck-Kiwanis park. After a rendezvous at the park, the group will begin their walk at Love’s Travel Stop.
Tiny houses are a trend that has been gaining momentum throughout the nation. The concept is city organizations help those who are homeless build little dwellings for themselves and their fellows. The houses are usually constructed on public or donated land and, many times, have a communal shower area or a space for gardening.
“If you can help build your own house, your self worth starts to come up,” said Bre Bundy, who is spearheading the project. “Just maybe, once they have a house, they’ll start feeling better about themselves and, with a mentor encouraging them, they can get a job.”
Bundy said the first step in her project is to raise a total of $800 in order to form a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, dubbed Mission Tiny House. Once Mission Tiny House is off the ground, Bundy said the next step is to create a prototype.
The tiny houses are planned to cost between $3,000 and $5,000 each to construct and would be built, as much as possible, from recycled materials. They would be powered by solar energy and contain a bed, a small bathroom with a camp shower and a composting toilet.
“That has a bucket and you add pete moss every time you use it and take the bag out in the morning and replace it with a new bag,” said Tamara Uriarte who is helping Bundy with the project. “It creates compost material. In the far future, we’re planning to dig a silo pit and add things to make compost.”
They would also have a induction hotplate for cooking.
“Those are the hot plates that will turn themselves off,” Uriarte said. “We met with a group of the people who are living down by the river and talked to them about this and they actually suggested that the hot plates be secured to the house so they wouldn’t get stolen.”
The group plans to start with 10 tiny houses and is currently looking at locations on the edge of city limits for their tiny house town.
“We don’t want them to be in the middle of the mix,” Bundy said, “but, on the edge of the city they could still access city services.”
For Bundy and Uriarte, the goal isn’t to provide permanent housing for folks without a roof over their heads, but to empower those who want to change their situation.
“We’re not going to make them comfortable enough to live there forever,” Uriarte said. “You’ve got to move forward in life.”
The houses would instead provide a safe place to sleep, as well as a place to shower and cook meals.
Ontario Police Chief Mark Alexander said he’s very interested in helping those who want to help themselves change their situation, but he has reservations about the idea.
“We have to be careful about attracting things we don’t need more of,” Alexander said. “I’m not opposed to helping people, but we have officers who have tried to work with those folks living on the river and most of them don’t want to change.”
Alexander said his officers have been successful in helping some of the people in a homeless situation in Ontario and Lifeways has transitional housing for them.
“It depends on what the details of the plan are, but we don’t want to increase our problem,” Alexander said.
Uriarte said she’s aware of the possibility that the tiny houses could attract more transient people, but she said she thinks it’s unlikely.
“They have missions and places to stay in Boise,” Uriarte said. “They’re not going to come to Ontario from Boise. From other places, well if they do come, we can serve them. That’s what we’re about anyway.”
Bundy said her hope is to grow her little group and have enough money raised for forming the non-profit and creating the prototype by the end of the summer. In order to raise the money, she’s already begun planning another trek, this time from Ontario to Bend, in June.
“I’d like to get everybody involved in this,” Bundy said. “Tiny houses have been hugely accepted across the state and this is something we want to do for our homeless so they’re out of the alley and off the river.”