Tiny houses could play a big role…

Octavio Castillo paddles a boat down a flooded street to reach the home of his cousin on April 19, 2013 in Des Plaines, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty)

In November I listened to an inspiring interview on NPR’s “The Takeaway”, hosted by John Hockenberry. The discussion was about disaster preparedness – or, more to the point – disaster unpreparedness. The severe weather over the holidays and the resulting chaos had me thinking about this interview once again. The discussion was about how few people are truly prepared to respond to a disaster. And the trick to this issue is that individuals and families really need to look to themselves and their communities as their own first responders. If it’s difficult for trained, professional responders to get to your community right away, then you will be dependent upon your own supplies for that interim amount of time. And if you are the home on the block that has prepared, might you not feel called to share that preparedness with the most vulnerable in your community? In fact, experts say that you should plan to do so. Essentially, you are preparing not only for you and your family, but also for those around you who will be in need of emergency supplies.

beyourownresponder

The discussion went on to address the fact that at a time of difficulty – such as after a natural disaster has impacted a community – we see time and time again that the people who were living on the edge – the most disenfranchised – will be the most vulnerable once again. We know that these groups include people living in poverty and the elderly – two groups addressed by this discussion. If a person is struggling to feed themselves on a daily basis, dependent on the little money coming in week by week, how are they to appropriately prepare with food and water that will be set aside “just in case”? And in the case of the elderly and others dependent upon outside caregivers who travel to their home, they will be in great need of assistance well beyond emergency supplies.

This interview got me thinking about the issues that we are working on at Close to Home. Tiny homes can address the health and safety of these most vulnerable people by solving two problems at the same time. If we understand that recovery from disasters can take years (and, as the interview noted, we should be planning for more disasters to come) we could use tiny homes to house the most vulnerable as a part of disaster preparedness, continuing to study further the positive impacts that this affordable solution might provide to communities recovering from a disaster. While living “tiny” might simply be a way for some members of a community to remain “close to home” while a rebuild of their primary home takes place, living “tiny” can be a permanent housing solution for others.

Part of the great beauty of the “tiny” solution is that it has appeal all up and down the spectrum. “Tiny” or “small” living is a lifestyle chosen by more and more people – for a large variety of reasons. From the affordability aspect to simplicity, and back to the understanding of principles of sustainability, these homes with tiny footprints allow for big changes in how we think about housing challenges in our world.

Historically, with the development of Heatsuburbs came the idea of driving to one’s home, often driving right into the garage, and closing the door to the community outside. We’ve become further and further disconnected from our neighbors. But as we think about disaster preparedness, it is imperative that we connect with our neighbors so that the lone elderly neighbor is known to the community and can be helped by immediate neighbors in the case of a disaster. We must know who the latchkey child is on the block who is alone and separated from parents when disaster strikes. Connections mean everything when moments count and neighbors must step up to help neighbors.

In the small, tight-knit town of Greensburg, KS, the town that survived a horrific tornado in 2007, neighbors knew immediately whether a neighbor was missing or not. Neighbors knew who was visiting family out of town and friends and family knew who to search for if they had not yet surfaced from the safety of waiting out the storm in a basement. We don’t all live in towns with a population of 1600, but we can certainly make it a point to get to know our neighbors.

The tiny living movement has an appeal to many who are looking for those community connections. When living small, outdoor space – such as a front porch – becomes a necessity. More time is spent outside of one’s home and connections to outside community naturally follow.

If we can change the way we think about the necessary size of our homes, then affordable housing becomes a goal more within reach. If we can apply this thinking to real disaster preparedness – beginning with protecting the most vulnerable residents in the most vulnerable communities – then maybe we can address the two big issues of housing and disaster preparedness with one “tiny” solution. It’s an idea that most certainly warrants further discussion. And what an appropriate topic as we spend this weekend in observance of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

Rachel Stamm, Founder & CEO

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