What is a tiny home for the homeless? Why do we need them?

aerial photo of Raven tiny home village in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood

Every night in Seattle/King County, WA, more than 9800 people sleep on the streets or in vehicles, according to the 2024 Point-in-Time Count.  There is a tremendous and immediate need for indoor alternatives.  Tiny homes are small structures built as temporary alternatives to living outside, so that our homeless neighbors aren’t sleeping in leaky tents, muddy encampments, unsafe vehicles, or abandoned buildings while they await permanent housing.  Tiny homes are not permanent housing and are not an alternative to building more permanent affordable housing.  Rather, they are transitional housing that allows our homeless neighbors a way to live inside where it’s warm, safe, and dry while they stabilize in a village with wraparound services to get them to the next step in their lives. 

How large are the tiny homes?  Do they have heat and electricity?  What about running water?

Our tiny homes are 8 ft. x 12 ft., roughly the size of a bedroom, and are equipped with a bed, linens, standing closet, and other necessities.  Once they leave The Hope Factory for the villages, they are wired for electricity and are given an overhead light, wall outlets, a space heater, and an a/c unit.  The villages provide community spaces, shared bathrooms with hot showers and flushable toilets, and a community kitchen, laundry facility and pantry.

interior tiny home photos from the opening of Raven Village, the newest tiny home village for the homeless in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood

How long does it take to build a tiny home for the homeless?

volunteers building tiny homes for the homeless, a fast and affordable solution to ending homelessness in seattle

Our jig system and assembly line style building process allow us to work on multiple homes at a time in our 15,000 square foot building facility.  To build and assemble four walls and the roof framing takes an inexperienced group a single day.  A team of experience volunteers can frame two homes in a day.  The remaining steps, including insulation, interior wall & ceiling panels, flooring, roofing, interior & exterior trim, and interior & exterior paint, require about two weeks from start to finish.  At a moderate and consistent pace, we finish roughly four homes per week.

a row of four nearly complete tiny homes for the homeless at Sound foundations nw, a non-profit builder

How do you build your tiny homes for the homeless?

Our tiny homes are built to last 20 years.  They are wood frame construction, fully insulated, painted, and roofed with standard asphalt shingles.  They also have Pergo flooring, two operable windows, and a locking front door for residents’ privacy and security.  Our homes are built on a jig system which are basically very large templates, that allow even those with no construction experience to build one.  Plans for our entire construction system, including architectural drawing for the jigs, materials lists, cut lists, and assembly steps are available for free to any nonprofit or government agency that would like them.  Email soundfoundationsnw@gmail.com to inquire.

Why are tiny homes a good solution to homelessness?

infographic showing tiny homes for the homeless are 3x as effective at solving homelessness in seattle area vs traditional group shelter

Tiny homes are a positive solution to unsheltered homelessness because they are a quick, scalable, affordable, and desirable alternative to citizens living on the streets.  Non-group (or, “non-congregate”) shelter options, like tiny homes and refurbished hotels & motels, where people have their own key and a place to secure themselves and their belongings, are generally much more desired by folks who are otherwise homeless than are traditional group shelters.

We build tiny homes for a small fraction of the cost of other non-congregate shelter options.  And in 2023 according to LIHI, the supportive services that come with living in a tiny home village were successful 63% of the time at moving residents into permanent housing and breaking the cycle of homelessness.  That’s one of the highest placement rates in the country.

Why doesn’t the city, state or federal governments pay for the tiny homes?

Homelessness is a complex problem with many root causes and many agencies within each government are trying to find solutions to the homelessness crisis.  We are just one way to help temporarily solve the problem.  Tiny homes are relatively inexpensive, durable, scalable, and most importantly desirable by the folks who need shelter, and they provide temporary housing until other, longer term solutions made by governments and other agencies can be achieved.  Sound Foundations NW does receive some grants from the City of Seattle and Washington State.

What are tiny home “villages”?  Does Sound Foundations NW operate the tiny home villages?

LIHI’s Riverton Park Village, Tukwila
aerial photo of Raven tiny home village, a solution to homelessness in Ballard, Seattle
Chief Seattle Club’s Raven Village, Ballard, Seattle

When the finished tiny homes leave our building, we donate them to one of our partner agencies who cluster the homes in pre-approved sites, or villages. Villages add communal restroom/ shower facilities, community kitchens & laundry, and are staffed and secure 24/7.

What we have learned from other cities that are ending homelessness is this:  homelessness is not about a lack of a home.  Homelessness is about a lack of COMMUNITY.  Villages help residents create community among themselves and stabilize and rebuild trust after the suspicion and instability of being homeless.

How much does a tiny home cost? How does that compare with other solutions?

infographic comparing cost of tiny homes for the homeless as a solution to homelessness vs cost of repurposed hotel rooms

Our tiny homes currently cost about $4500 ea. worth of materials to build (Winter, 2024).  We keep costs so low because we use a nearly 100% volunteer building crew.  Only 3% of our costs are administrative costs.  By comparison, in July 2021, King County purchased a former hotel for $28.25M to provide transitional housing for up to 144 people – a rate of $196,181 per person. 

Do you accept donations to help build tiny homes for the homeless?

donate to help build tiny homes for the homeless, a solution to homelessness, in Seattle

Yes, thank you!  Our building materials are all purchased, not donated, although we do receive volume discounts.  Most of our funding comes from individual and corporate donations, and we welcome any financial assistance you can offer.  To donate by check, credit/debit card, direct bank transfer, your Donor Advised Fund or from your IRA, even appreciated stock or cryptocurrency, please click the button, go to our donation page, or contact our Development Coordinator at devel.sfnw@gmail.com .

Graphic showing $4500 cost of building materials at Sound Foundations NW, a non-profit builder of transitional tiny homes as a solution to homelessness in Seattle