Joppa Proposing ‘Tiny House Village’ to Replace Homeless Camps

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

DES MOINES, Iowa -- It's a familiar routine in Des Moines: the city's homeless find shelter along the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. Complaints filter in, city workers evict the homeless from the camps and clean the mess left behind. All of this is done only to be repeated a week or a month later when another homeless camp has formed.

But one organization has proposed a plan never before seen in Iowa.

"Camps like this are constantly on the move today because of homeless evictions," said Joe Stevens, co-founder of Joppa Outreach, a local organization helping fight homelessness. "The city has come along and has evicted pretty much every area near homeless services near downtown Des Moines and so homeless folks have no place to go."

Stevens and his colleagues at Joppa are proposing a solution they claim would break the cycle on homelessness in Des Moines, and it involves those "tiny houses" you see popping up all over the country.

"It's a three-pronged plan involving tiny homes in supportive villages," Stevens said. "And the part of the plan that we're focused on right now is actually the middle part, which is a transitional village. A transitional village is a place someone goes for six to 24 months to gain a source of income and overcome other barriers to housing, so that they can get into permanent housing."

Stevens' group envisions three different tiny house villages for Des Moines' homeless population including: A starter village, where anyone experiencing homelessness can go and seek quick, temporary shelter; a transitional village, designed for homeless individuals seeking employment and other resources to get back on their feet; a permanent village, where tiny houses would be rented out monthly to formerly homeless residents.

"A tiny home village provides a safe, secure, sanitary place to live," said Amy Hunold-VanGundy, with Joppa. "So I have my own home, 100 square feet. A door that locks, a bed, table, chair. That means every time I have my own space to deal with any issue I'm dealing with, but also to get a good night's rest. But Joppa is also providing transition services, whatever social services they need, and a jobs program."

Right now, Joppa is just focusing on the transitional village aspect of its vision. The group wants permission from the City of Des Moines to construct 50 tiny houses on a plot of land. The cost? It's covered, Stevens says.

"The tiny homes in this transitional village, we can build for $5,000 a piece," he said. "And when I say, 'We,' I'm talking about churches, people, and other organizations in the community. We've got relationships with 70-some churches, and every one of them has said they could build at least one tiny home."

But there are some obstacles standing in Joppa's way. A year ago, city officials and Joppa nearly reached an agreement for a plot of land to use for this project. Once nearby residents heard of the proposal, the "not in my neighborhood" mentality took over.

Stevens says a large part of his group's efforts have involved educating the public on why this solution could be a game-changer for eliminating homelessness in Des Moines.

"We're actually giving people a place to go," he said. "The homeless folks are already in the neighborhoods, but they have no place to go; we keep moving them from here to there through city evictions. So what we're doing - when they come into the village, they're no longer homeless. They're now a resident of the community, and we have high expectations for what they will do to contribute to the community and be a good citizen."

While Joppa continues to work with city officials on moving this project forward, it's also continuing its public marketing campaign. An online petition on Joppa's website  already has over 100 signatures. The group says at any given time, there are about 250 homeless individuals with no place to go in Des Moines - a number Stevens says is "extremely manageable."

"If we were in LA, this problem would be a lot less manageable," he said. "But here in Des Moines, we can solve this problem."