Seattle Teens Built This Tiny House For The Homeless

Sep 20, 2015

"The Nest," as the students call it, is a serious step up from a tent.

There's no plumbing or electricity, but it's watertight, insulated and has walls and a lock. And it was designed with a homeless person in mind.

Thalia Bell is one of the students at Franklin High School in South Seattle who helped design The Nest. 

She’s part of Sawhorse Revolution, which teaches design and building skills to high school students. Sawhorse is one of several organizations building very small housing structures for a homeless camp that will soon be moved back to the Central District.

Students talked to people about what it's like to live in a tent city.

"We talked to the Nickelsville residents about challenges they had with the structures they had on site —  things they wanted, things that were important to them — because if you're not in that situation, it's genuinely very hard to imagine it," she said.

John Hord doesn't have to imagine. 

He's a Nickelsville resident, but on an afternoon in June, he was at Franklin High School for the unveiling of The Nest.

Hord lost his housing in February of this year, and he had nowhere to go. 

"So what I did is I just grabbed my camping gear, you know stuff I could carry, I said, ‘I need to keep my job,’ so I just crawled into the Jungle and set up a tent."

The Jungle is a patch of woods and thickets between Beacon Hill and I-5. Hord lived there for five weeks.

He spent his days working as a journeyman carpenter on a condo remodel downtown. But at night, back at the tent, he was always anxious. 

"I'm a pretty big guy. But in the darkness of that Jungle, size doesn't matter,” he said. “I'd hear people walking around or creeping around and instantly I'd wake up, and yeah, I was in fear of my life every night."

As it happened, the Jungle was just up the road from a Nickelsville tent city. Hord saw it one morning on the way to work. He moved in as soon as he could.

He likes the security and the sense of community. 

But he still has one problem.

"When the wind blows it kind of buckles my tent a little bit,” he said. “It would be kind of nice to have some sturdy walls and not have to worry about that."

That problem will be solved soon, for people like Hord, when The Nest rolls into the Tiny House Village. 

The Nest will be one of 16 structures set up in a lot owned by the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, at 22nd and Union. The Tiny House Village is a project managed by the church, the Low Income Housing Institute and Nickelsville.

In time, Sawhorse Revolution will provide more tiny houses and other structures.

Bella Biagio lives a few doors down from the church in a house she's rented for 18 years. A few months ago, she learned that Nickelsville was moving in. Again.

"I was really upset, to be honest," she said.

On a recent morning, Biagio stood on her porch with her neighbor, Jeff Fike, and remembered what it was like when Nickelsville had a tent city on the same site, over a year ago. 

"Lots of activity, lots of drugs, lots of panhandling ... huge open bonfires every night. It just wasn't good for the neighborhood," she said.

They said, on top of the City Light substation next door, the construction around them and Uncle Ike's Pot Shop opening up nearby, it's a lot of stress on the neighborhood all at once.

Biagio said she brought up those concerns with the pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd.

"His response was, basically, when is a good time?” she said. “I questioned him about that. And basically he said it was happening whether any of us disapproved or not."

Back at Franklin High School, John Hord took part in a key handoff ceremony. He's not likely to get this tiny house – he's low on the waiting list – but he accepted the key on behalf of Nickelsville.

"You've enhanced humanity in a fantastic way for doing this. Be proud. And again, thank you very much,” he said. Then, joking, he said, "Now, can you guys get off my yard?"

The Nest will be one of the first structures in place at the Tiny House Village. It went into place on Sunday.