Solar and Tiny Homes
Over the past decade, cities and communities across the United States have constructed tiny homes to combat homelessness. Designed to assist veterans, disabled individuals, and the chronically homeless, the structures provide an affordable, replicable option to address the ongoing homelessness crisis in America.
A tiny home not only offers a much-need roof over one's head, it also allows for a level of safety not found in a shelter. In the words of Sharon Lee from the Seattle Low Income Housing Institute, "“You don’t want to sleep next to someone you don’t know. You’re worried about bed bugs. You’re worried about getting your stuff stolen or being assaulted…. You move into a tiny house, you lock the door. You’re safe."
Funding for tiny homes comes from private donations, public programs, and even crowd-sourced contributions, while building the structures incorporates manpower from Boy Scouts and religious groups to volunteers from major corporations and residents themselves.
Tiny Homes And Tiny Villages
Tiny houses vary in size - ranging from 100 to 500 square feet - and can include utilities such as electricity and running water. Numerous tiny home villages have developed, small settlements where hundreds of residents cooperate and share resources. In Seattle, Washington, there are nine villages, with as many as 40 planned for the future. Austin, Texas, is home to Community First! - a village that provides housing options alongside gardens, training opportunities, and recreational amenities.
While tiny homes have been called a temporary solution to larger issues related to homelessness, many residents of tiny homes and villages find longer term support and accommodation. At the Sanctuary village in Nashville, Tennessee, individuals pay what they can afford and stay as long as necessary, finding refuge from, "the stress of living on the street or at [a shelter]. You can get your mind set, focus and start to pull yourself together.”
Residents of Detroit, Michigan's tiny home community, "care for each other," paying $1 per square foot for the first seven years of residency. If they meet all of the conditions of their presence within the community after that time, they receive the deed to their home.
Innovation, Solar Power, And Tiny Homes
Tiny homes may be connected to an electricity grid or to metropolitan water and sewage infrastructure. Communal showers and laundry facilities can often substitute for in-home facilities, while generators offer electricity in lieu of on-grid options.
Finding the most efficient and sustainable choices for tiny homes has also brought solar technology into the fray. Communities like Opportunity Village in Eugene, Oregon, and Eden Village in Springfield, Missouri, have incorporated solar panels into their tiny home structures.
Solar chargers at Opportunity Village were lightweight and easily moved to accommodate individual residents. Their incorporation into structures was meant to drive down energy costs and introduce renewable energy practices and mechanisms to the community. In Missouri, the partnership between Eden Village and Sun Solar was the first of its kind with respect to tiny home projects. Sun Solar donated solar panels to Eden Village in 2018, facilitating a pathway to energy independence.
More recently, solar panels were installed on unused shipping containers in Las Vegas, Nevada. The structures were converted into tiny homes at Share Village, a community founded in 1994 to accommodate homeless veterans and nonveterans alike. In a similar project, Compassion Village in Sacramento, California, will incorporate backup solar power to supplement electrical energy at the community's central resource center.
The Future Of Solar And Tiny Houses
As tiny houses continue to develop around the United States, their role in addressing social inequity remains the subject of debate. The long term presence of tiny houses may find support by incorporating new technology, including solar power.
The introduction of solar panels to houses and structures within tiny home villages need not only be about the passive presence of solar technology. Residents can become part of the process, learning to install and maintain those panels or even manufacturing those panels at a local factory. Using solar power as part of larger programs to address homelessness opens the door for workforce development programs and economic stimuli.