The number of people experiencing homelessness across Seattle/King County is a growing problem. The last point-in-time count conducted a few months prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic found 11,751 people experiencing homelessness with just less than half (47%) unsheltered. This count in January of 2020 represented a five percent increase over 2019. Many expect the pandemic has only exacerbated this problem.
Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, members of Renton United Methodist Church have continued working on building tiny houses, one strategy being used in King County to house and help people to transition out of homelessness. With volunteers coming together to do the construction, and others within the church donating materials and producing quilts, member Jim Lohn was quick to identify the project as one the church did together.
Along with fellow member Norm Abrahamson, Lohn visited one of the camps where the tiny houses were situated and shared with other members of the church how much people loved them. This initial report helped to get people excited about the work, as did a visit with another United Methodist who lived in North Seattle and built tiny houses in his backyard.
“The Spirit of God inspired [Jim and Norm] to, with a few other men in the congregation, begin engineering and building the first house,” said Renton UMC pastor Michele Campton-Stehr. “The quilting group at Renton UMC heard what the men were doing and then they decided to make a quilt and curtains for that first tiny house.”
Built to recommendations of 8 feet by 12 feet with a door and two windows to provide ventilation, tiny houses used to cost around $2,500 in materials to build. Each house is insulated and has enough power to provide for a heater and other basic needs. In late July, team members were putting the finishing touches on their fourth tiny home. Once it is completed, a truck will arrive to pick it up and take it to one of the tiny house villages in the area.
Though they have been quite thrifty in finding supplies, Renton UMC’s builders noted that with timber and other supply costs escalating, starting another home would cost more than $5,000, which may hinder their continued work.
Last year, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan identified tiny houses as “the most successful shelter we have to get people into long-term housing.” During a pandemic, Real Change News notes that these homes have provided an additional benefit in their providing a solution allowing occupants to actually shelter in place.
Lohn mentioned that the turnover in tiny houses is 35-40 days on average with a number of the occupants leaving as they find more permanent housing. Every one of those success stories is a win and affirmation of this work.
Rev. Campton-Stehr shared that team members were moved by the impact having a Tiny House had, helping to restore dignity to the residents.
Reflecting on how this ministry has helped the church to connect to its neighbors, she said, “We are helping and connecting with our neighbor by creating a safe space where they are able to make a bridge to more permanent housing. I am so amazed at the depth of love and compassion expressed for our neighbor.