June 3rd, 2020
The Kenton Women’s Village started in 2017 as an experiment where 14 women who had experienced trauma that made them reluctant to go to homeless shelters would live in 8-by-12-foot “pods” — essentially just large enough for a bed and some belongings.
It attracted national attention because of its backing by the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services. It also drew ire early in its test phase from some residents.
But after more than a year, the project has been considered a success and the city has invested in expanding the village to 23 women in a long-term location with more amenities. Seven pods from the original village were moved to a new site blocks away with 21 new ones built and donated by local contractors and construction companies.
The Joint Office of Homeless Services spent about $19,000 on the move. The city has spent almost $350,000 on the village since its inception. Multnomah County pays for operational expenses, including a contract with Catholic Charities to manage the village and provide social services for the residents.
The new village has sewer service, water and electricity — a huge upgrade to the quality of life from the last one. The first homes didn’t have heat in the winter, and the women weren’t allowed to use space heaters, a safety precaution that sometimes made the cold nights miserable. But each newly built home has a radiant heating panel, and the row of port-a-potties will soon be swapped for flush toilets.
So far, 24 women have used their tiny home to find work, organize their life and find a permanent place to live. Some women have not made the step to permanent housing, according to Catholic Charities development project manager Deborah Kamprath.
Those who have been able to transition are still in the same housing — a striking fact despite the small sample size.
Kamprath said that an average woman who comes to the village has been living on the street for five years — long past the one year needed to be considered “chronically homeless.” People who are chronically homeless tend to have the hardest time keeping a room long-term once placed in housing.
She attributes the success rate to the intensive support the women receive once in the village. Each resident gets her own space in one of the pods. She can lock the door and decorate to make it her own. But she also must participate in a process to become financially self-sufficient, such as finding a job, getting medical and dental care, obtaining new identification documents and other work that can help her move on from the village.
Women who opt out of the services side get asked to leave the village. But that has been the minority, said Kamprath.
Most women are like Charm Lauritzen, who moved into the village when it first opened on the new site.
Lauritzen likely wouldn’t have gone to a large homeless shelter. She didn’t really consider herself homeless, just between opportunities.
She had come back from a stint in Kosovo with PeaceCorps and couldn’t find a room to rent in Portland or a job to pay the rent. Most of her family is out of state, and her daughter was in college.
So she parked her car at night in the Mount Tabor neighborhood where she used to live before going overseas and snuck showers at the Catholic Charities’ day center or the Oregon Tradeswomen program where she was enrolled to become a carpenter. Still, she struggled with the cold January nights cramped into a tiny vehicle with all her belongings.
She embraced the women’s village because of the tiny house aspect and because it gave her a place to regroup while she figured out her next path.
“When you’re sleep deprived, that makes life that much more stressful,” Lauritzen said. “When you don’t have your own place to go to everything’s that much more stressful.”
Lauritzen completed the eight-week course and then enrolled in a three-week Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute program and is now looking for jobs in her new field. She hopes to stay at the village for a year — the average length of stay for women at the village — while she starts a new job, saves money and prepares a plan to buy her own land where she can build her own house.
In the meantime, her own home, which she repainted beige, teal and yellow once she moved in, can serve as inspiration.
The 21 new pods were all built and donated by local contractors and construction firms in a friendly competition to see how each would improve on one of three designs created by Portland State University School of Architecture students, SRG Partnership and Scott Edwards Architecture.
The designs come from insulation and durability tests and interviews with the women who lived in the 14 original pods about what they liked and didn’t. Those homes were designed and donated in an architecture competition, so the styles varied.
But most women appreciated natural light, porches, recessed storage space that made the space feel bigger and frames that didn’t appear like they were trapped in a box.
Andersen Construction, which helped prepare the new village site, won as the “best in show” pod with its use of heavy cross-laminated timber panels on the floor and for a bench outside that give the home a warm, rustic feel. A vertical window runs the length of one side to draw the eye up toward the tall ceilings and make the tiny space feel roomy. High shelves, a pull-down shelf and Murphy bed make the pod more useful for someone who can easily stand and reach and have the benefit of allowing the resident to keep more belongings without it being in the way.
Other homes emphasized storage, outside space, ambient lighting or other effects to customize the space. So many firms participated that there are eight extra pods waiting for the next village project.
Todd Ferry, a PSU architecture professor and co-founder of the university’s new Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative, said that there isn’t an immediate project yet, but the Kenton village has generated high interest around the country.
His students also helped with the tiny homes for Clackamas County’s homeless veterans village, and he hopes that their work continues to expand. Many of the students got to see their designs in action for the first time at the Kenton village opening after a year of preparation. Ferry said the experience of working within the confines of the assignment and using input from the people who live in the pods forced the students to think specifically about the needs of the people who will live in the pods, but also broadly about what homeless women will need to feel safe.
“It’s transformative for them and makes them, I think, much better designers,” Ferry said.
As more women move in to the new pods, the city and Ferry’s students will be working to beautify the city-owned triangle lot and install a larger kitchen and hygiene facility, which are currently in bright yellow shipping containers only suited for about 14 people.
City officials have moved away from endorsing more of these tiny house villages other than the relocation of North Portland’s self-governed homeless community Hazelnut Grove. But Ferry and others are enthusiastic that the micro-homes are a good option for certain demographics of people who are living on the street.
“It’s not the silver bullet solution to homelessness,” Ferry said. “What it seems extremely good at is a place to heal.”
Title: Kenton tiny home village for homeless women gets permanent home
Posted By: OregonLive
Author: Molly Harbarget
Date: April 17, 2019
Link: Original Article