Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tiny Houses for the Homeless

Tiny Houses for the Homeless

By Michelle Matthews |
Email the author |September 16, 2015 at 11:20 AM

Since Aug. 31, a meme claiming that Mobile "is building a tiny house village to end homelessness" has made the rounds on Facebook. The post encourages people to "Like and share if you want something like this in your town."

Originally published by Dionne Mahaffey of Sandy Springs, Ga., the post was liked by more than 23,000 people and has been shared more than 127,000 times.

But Mobile isn't getting a village of tiny houses anytime soon.

The photos used in Mahaffey's post actually depict the micro-houses that are part of Community First! Village being built by Mobile Loaves & Fishes, an Austin, Texas-based social outreach ministry.

The Mobile Loaves & Fishes website ( describes Community First! as "a 27-acre master-planned project in East Austin designed to provide affordable, sustainable housing and support for Central Texans who have been chronically homeless."

The project is "80 percent through construction, said Alan Graham, the chief executive officer of Mobile Loaves & Fishes. "We'll be done within the next 60 days and start moving people in."

Community First! includes a mix of affordable housing options, from fifth-wheel RVs to micro-houses to canvas-sided cottages, with amenities including a community garden, a chicken operation, bee hives, a medical facility, WiFi, walking trails and much more, according to the website.

Graham said he was unaware that photos of the tiny houses were being used to promote the idea of a homeless village in Mobile until he was contacted by an reporter. "But there's no heartburn here" over the mistake, he said. "It's no hair off our backs at all."

The mistake occurred, presumably, because Austin's "Mobile Loaves & Fishes" was confused with the name of the city of Mobile.

When asked via email if he knew about a proposed tiny house village, George Talbot, senior director of communications and external affairs for the city of Mobile mayor's office, wrote, "I can only speak for the City, but it's not one of our initiatives." He suggested that it could be "a private deal or nonprofit/church project."

"It's not happening yet, but we have people who are looking into it," Housing First Inc. Chief Executive Officer Eric Jefferson said. "We do have an interest as an organization in tiny homes, and we're trying to get the infrastructure in place to do that."

Jefferson first heard about the meme Tuesday morning, he said, when the chief operating officer of the homeless coalition made him aware of it.

Housing First is trying to turn the former Days Inn hotel on the Beltine at I-65 and Airport Boulevard into affordable housing units – a $10 million project, Jefferson said.

According to the most recent point-in-time count done on Jan. 29, Jefferson said, 640 individuals in Mobile and Baldwin counties met the "homeless" criteria as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). "But that doesn't take into account the number defined by the Department of Education as being homeless," he said, which includes some 6,000 kids.

"We're working with two and sometimes three different definitions," he said. "But the overall homeless numbers are down."

In the past three years, he said, 25 percent of people in the Housing First program "have gone to self-sufficiency," meaning they can pay their own rent and bill and don't need additional services.

A tiny house village to house homeless people isn't on its way to Mobile "yet," Jefferson said – but he anticipates that it could be on the horizon.

Dionne Mahaffey, who apparently originally posted the meme on her Facebook timeline – writing "C'mon Atlanta" and tagging nine of her friends, including a few in Mobile – is, according to a short bio on her Twitter account (@atlcelebrity) an "entrepreneur, volunteer, journalist, life coach, techie." She did not respond to a request for comment.