views on Seattle tiny house villages, from Lived Experience Coalition's Harold Odom

Tim McCormick

I participated in an interesting online event Thursday: "Stories About Home", featuring five people with lived experience of homelessness, hosted by the Seattle Times's Times Homeless initiative. See story and video at that link.

Of particular interest to me and probably this group were comments by Harold Odom, an eloquent and thoughtful guy who is chair of the Lived Experience Coalition, a unique organization which advises and is part of King County's governance on homelessness issues.

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In the Q&A time, I asked Harold: "can you say more about why you think tiny-home villages should not expand in Seattle, and if there's a different way they might be done that you'd support? or what alternative to pursue instead? (noting: your comments in this story in"

His reply (at 59:15 - 1:01:15) was interesting and suggested, I thought, a different inclination than the news articles quoting him or the LEC (see their September statement on tiny houses, below) have. He says, "tiny houses, and REACH [support organization] saved my life," but his current place is too tight: "I wish I had a bigger place." He notes that he could afford to move to an apartment, but chooses not to as it isn't his focus right now.

Also, earlier in the event, he discusses how when first homeless, he went to REI to read books on self-building, and based on that built himself an informal house "twice the size of a tiny house". This suggests that he understands "tiny house" in the sense promoted by LIHI (and Portland State's HRAC/CPID researchers), of a pod shelter around 10x12 feet. Which is much smaller than most homes called "tiny houses," and the emerging standard meaning of < 400 square feet, as set in the 2018 International Residential Code, Appendix Q.

The Lived Experience Coalition in September had released a statement, I partly quote here: 

"The Washington State Lived Experience Coalition (LEC) has been receiving inquiries regarding our position on tiny homes from both the press and community partners. With colder weather months quickly approaching, we thank community members and advocates for their continued efforts to end homelessness by centering people with lived experience in developing solutions.

"As a coalition representing hundreds of members, many of whom continue to reside in tiny home villages, we must be clear that tiny homes do not end anyone’s experience of homelessness and as currently constituted, they are not meeting the needs of the people staying there. Additionally, Tiny Homes Villages for those experiencing homelessness do not meet federal human habitability standards and are in fact sheds rather than tiny homes. For better or for worse, the many people warehoused there in dehumanizing conditions and lack of services still make it home. This speaks to the strength and resiliency of the human spirit to create a home out of any situation for their loved ones even if that is a car, a tent, or a tiny shed. We must ask ourselves, how does such a system harm the individuals and families living there?

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The stance we take regarding all types of emergency shelter (including tiny homes) is that they must be a place of dignity with fidelity to Housing-First, Harm-Reduction, Trauma-Informed Models and Racial Equity and Social Justice Principles, including:
    • adequate plumbing and electricity,
    • a robust and quality standard of care focused on obtaining permanent housing; and
    • a self-governing and democratic environment where individuals living there are empowered to make decisions about their own lives.
Furthermore, tiny home villages and other temporary emergency responses often distract policymakers and the public from prioritizing and investing in permanent solutions to homelessness [....]

Without adequate funding for evidence-based solutions to homelessness, tiny home villages may become our de-facto community response – warehousing and dehumanizing people into our own entrenched version of shanty towns, favelas, and slums. [...]" 

I believe that this debate shows a common pattern of being diverted by polarization and uncritical or motivated framing. The LEC expresses concerns about Seattle's villages "as currently constituted," and it is widely taken by officials and media as a rejection/critique of 'villages' some general concept or approach. 

At the same time, the LEC focuses on demands like "a self-governing and democratic environment where individuals living there are empowered to make decisions about their own lives," which is clearly not characteristic of much conventional, 'permanent' housing, where buildings / projects typically have little to no self-governance or community control, or shared ownership. Yet the polarization dynamic, and I'd say bias confirmation among many people involved in homelessness, interpret LEC's response as endorsing that conventional, 'permanent' housing. 

As LEC's statement says: We can do better.  Than either of the options given us by the constant reductive, polarized framing. 

below: Seattle Times article/event page: 

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[Background]: Here's an article quoting and discussing Odom, and how the Lived Experience Coalition gained a substantive role in the King County

Tim McCormick
Housing Alternatives Network
+1 503.334.1894. Zoom personal room.
Director Oregon Cooperative Housing Network, Editor at HousingWiki,
Organizer at Village Collaborative