Tiny homes could solve big problems

A new community group has some tiny ideas that aim to make a big impact for the disadvantaged.

Soldotna resident Krista Schooley, a homeless advocate, started The Habitation — Tiny House Community for the Homeless. The concept is to create a low-cost, self-build and self-sustaining community for adults in need, she said. Schooley said with a housing shortage on the Kenai Peninsula, homelessness has been a problem in the area that needs to be addressed.

The project is in its infancy and no land has been acquired. Schooley said the goal right now is to rally support as a way to get like-minded people that like to help volunteer together and brainstorm how Schooley’s vision can become a reality.

Schooley and Kenai Peninsula College student Davina Schultz hosted a community meeting Saturday, which was attended by 15 people. Schultz, 19, used to be homeless as a teenager, but is now working on building a tiny cabin to live in with her boyfriend on Funny River Road. The group met for two hours in Kenai and brainstormed some of the challenges involved with how the community project could be funded and managed. Schooley said the feedback from everyone involved has been “extremely positive.”

“I’m looking to get people in the community to volunteer their time and who have a heart to help,” she said. “We are in the beginning stages and I wanted to give a general idea of what this could look like and how it’s already happening in other areas.”

Schooley said she was first interested in simplifying her life and looked into the tiny house movement six weeks ago when it dawned on her that a tiny house community could work for those less fortunate. She said she researched the topic and came across Andrew Heben, who co-founded Opportunity Village in Eugene, Ore., a micro-housing community that has provided a home to more than 60 people since its formation one year ago.

Schooley said she would like The Habitation to be modeled after Heben’s Opportunity Village. She put together a rough plan and shared with the group how it could be organized and what the benefits would be to the community. Part of the rough draft concept includes a common house with a kitchen, bathroom and laundry room, a workshop, a community garden and a recreation area.

At Opportunity Village, organizers built 122-square-foot dwellings for $5,000 each, Schooley said.

People who attended the meeting asked questions about what a self-sustaining community could look like and where would be an ideal location. Planning and zoning for transitional housing with the Kenai Peninsula Borough or municipalities of Soldotna and Kenai also were discussed.

Soldotna residents Eric and Nelma Treider attended the meeting and expressed a desire to address the homeless issue and volunteered to help gather reused building material. Eric Treider said tiny homes could attract people that choose to live in a community that shares certain values.

Melissa Kline, a coordinator with Independent Living Center, said it is important to focus on providing community education and “break down stereotypes” about the homeless population. She said the center is a link for resources and helps people in transition work toward a goal of independent living.

“We work with a large percentage of homeless and disabled veterans,” she said. “We provide free service for anyone with a disability. It’s important to educate the community to take away the stigma of disability.”

Shari Conner, intake coordinator at Serenity House, attended the meeting because she was interested to see what others have proposed to do about the homeless issue in the central Kenai Peninsula.

Conner, who also is a coordinator for Change 4 Kenai, a community prevention group made up of various agencies that is researching problems in the community and how they could be addressed.

“Our community is not connected to each other anymore,” Conner said. “We are looking at how to get our community back. We wish to unite our strengths and create better lives for our friends, family and neighbors.”

Conner said in her role at Serenity House, she is in the assessment process focusing on the issue of transitional housing. She said she has obtained a $1 million federal grant funded under community behavior health programs to develop a 12- to 24-bed transitional living facility to help people go from transition to independence.

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