Dallas Is Placing 50 Homeless Residents In Tiny Homes | KERA News

Dallas Is Placing 50 Homeless Residents In Tiny Homes

Sep 9, 2016

Some of Dallas’ neediest homeless people will soon have a place of their own: a tiny house.

The Cottages at Hickory Crossing opened recently just south of Deep Ellum -- and residents are moving in over the next few weeks. Many say these small cottages are a step in the right direction in the city’s ongoing struggle with homelessness.

The 50 cottages are clustered together like a small village or a summer camp, even. Gray and industrial on the outside – clean and cozy on the inside.

They’re designed to house the 50 homeless people deemed the costliest to Dallas County’s hospitals, emergency services and jails. Officials have estimated these individuals each cost taxpayers about $40,000 a year. The cottages would cost significantly less per person – about $15,000.

More than just a place to live

John Greenan is the executive director of Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, one of the nonprofits that helped develop the cottages. He says these houses give the chronic homeless a sense of ownership and control.

“When we move people into these units, we give them the key," Greenan said. "It’s their place. It’s not our place; it’s not your place. It belongs to the people that live there. And we think that’s an absolutely crucial element for them to have a better life – whatever they choose that to be.”

Each cottage is about 400 square feet and comes with a full kitchen, bathroom and bedroom under a high-vaulted ceiling. 

Each cottage is about 400 square feet and is fully furnished.
Credit Stephanie Kuo/KERA

It's more than just housing, though: the new residents will get social services and mental and medical health care on site.

The cottages follow the tenets of a “housing first” strategy, which homeless advocates have touted as the only viable solution to homelessness. By being provided a place to live, the homeless then would be able to address issues like health and employment.

'There is great potential'

Monica Egert Smith is with the W.W. Caruth Jr. Foundation, which contributed millions of dollars to the $6.8 million project. Smith said there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“Every provider's role is essential for this model to work, and we know there will likely be more bumps along the way,” she said. “Yet we also know that there is great potential to demonstrate the effectiveness of permanent supportive housing and hopefully create a smoother path for similar projects in Dallas and across the country in the future.”

Video: Take a tour of a cottage

In the works: Converting shipping containers into homes

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says the Cottages at Hickory Crossing are not the end-all solution to homelessness, but are an effective first step. In addition to these cottages, there are plans to convert large shipping containers into housing.

“We’ve got to find ways, and we’ve got to find the political will – and I’m not just talking about politicians and elected officials," Jenkins said. "All of us – churches, foundations and citizens – have to find the political will to tackle homelessness again and again. This is a step. It’s not a solution, but it’s a great step.”

Over the past year, Dallas has seen a spike in homelessness, which prompted the growth of homeless camps, like Tent City under Interstate 45. Some of them have closed following concerns about safety and public health. As Dallas continues to grow and flourish economically, Mayor Mike Rawlings said taking care of homeless people needs to be a priority.

From left: Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas City Council Member Tiffinni Young, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Monica Egert Smith, John Greenan and Larry James.
Credit Stephanie Kuo / KERA News

“There’s nothing that makes us grow emotionally as a city better than living by Matthew 25,” Rawlings said. “'When I was sick, you took me in. When I was a stranger, you took me in. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was hungry, you fed me.' I think we are a Matthew 25 city.”

The cottages are located near the intersection of Interstates 35 and 45, just down the street from where Tent City used to be. Tenants will move into their new homes over the next few weeks.