David is a massage therapist by day, Lyft driver by night; but his secret life is as a compassionate, entrepreneurial, Tiny Village builder. Here we will discuss his ideals on shaping the world into a healthier and brighter place. We capture David’s perspective on the Tiny Homes movement and creative ideas around developing Tiny Home Villages particularly for low-income and homeless people. But overall, David speaks of the idea of minimalist living, and the important role it has in our developing world of technology and the climate-change-driven-struggle to transform our social norms, to save the planet, our collective Home.
YS: Are Tiny Homes an ideal solution for low-income homes, particularly for the homeless?
DW: First, let me ask; internationally, what do we call small sustainable housing? In this country, we call them Tiny Homes, but in some other countries, they call them “Social Interest Housing.” In Mexico and Africa, it is of “social interest” to give people homes to live in. The American dream here is to have a big house on a postage-stamp lot, living in luxury, but that’s just goofy when it comes to sustainability and the pursuit to maintain balanced equality.
I met an architect in Vail and he designs Tiny Home Villages (Social Interest Housing) in Africa. He has integrated goat tracks throughout the village. He thought, “How could we have the food sources right out the back door?”
In our country we get so caught up in the zoning, thinking that everything must be divided into separate sections with retail over there, farming over here, and homes over in some other area, but this sectarian farming and division is not sustainable. It is possible to create a reality where everybody has a home integrated with sustainable technology throughout the land. So is Tiny Homes a good solution for housing the homeless? It’s not just a good way to give people homes, but it also sparks the pathway to create and cultivate an interactive and sustainable community.
We could build people 500-8,000 square foot homes that don’t use a lot of energy. When people have such huge homes, they have a lot of empty space and they end up warming or keeping cool that unneeded space, which is a waste of resources. It does not make any ecological sense. Eventually, we are going to wake up—like other countries have—and create sustainable, livable, and enjoyable small-footprint homes. It’s where the market is heading anyways.
YS: Do you think it is possible to develop Tiny Homes with current urban development?
DW: An example in Guile, Belgium shows how they have been housing all people for 650+ years. It was illegal to be homeless Guile. Towns in Colorado, and all throughout the United States, it is also illegal to be homeless. But here, they tell people to move along, go somewhere else and become invisible. In the United States, we criminalize poor, homeless people, for existing and then accept it as a cultural norm.
But in Guile, Belgium they have created a city where the culture is to open their doors and share their homes with the less fortunate while creating solutions to provide those people homes in the meantime. Social workers, health professionals, and neighbors come out to the homes that have been shared and spend time with the people of that unit, cultivating solutions and building strong relationships. It is beautiful for us to see such a thing. It is the norm for them to see, a tradition passed down throughout the city. It makes collective-survival sense to support people instead of condemning them.
Integrating the actual structures of the Tiny Homes and implementing sustainable land use is not the most difficult part of transforming Urban Development. Although it is hard to directly implement a new design due to the divisionary structure-zone planning in the United States, passing amendments through legislation could aid that effort. But, the most difficult part of this today is creating a social plan to cultivate what it means to be a community; to create a culture where Tiny Homes are not just a solution to problems, but a celebration of community; to transform the social norm into a pursuit of human equality and environmental justice.
YS: How do think current urban development affects low-income communities?
DW: There are people in the United States who truly do want to help homeless people, but seem to be at loss as to how. Current Urban Development plays a role in making it more difficult to allow those people to help the homeless. Out in the suburbs, like in Boulder County and other counties, people have extra bedrooms that they are willing to share. But, along with building those relationships and a foundation of trust and expectations from both sides, there needs to be a means of affordable transportation for people to even be able to reach those homes. Due to the divided structure of our land, it is hard to interact with different people of different backgrounds because we are geographically forced to be categorized into common groups, social cliques based on income.
Gentrification is generally what urban development stands for today, though this can be changed along with the culture change. When I was working in Kansas City with an organization I started called Brothers and Sisters Home Repair, we saw low-income housing be torn down due to the increase of revenue in that area; gentrification. Developers would come in, buy a bunch of houses and sell them for more than what they bought them for.
It’s social-economical prohibition through an act of commerce. Some low-income communities would also suffer due to code violations. One could not afford to fix their broken gutters and then get condemned for it. Brothers and Sisters for Home Repair would help aid these issues by providing a half-priced home repair service to these oppressed low-income communities.
The pursuit to build Tiny Home villages also runs into code issues, we have to change the city’s definition of what a home requires. So it is a challenge to break the paradigm. We need homes with mortgages that are more like $10,000 – $20,000 or less. In places like Boulder, there are small 1-2 bedroom houses going for $200,000 all the way to $400,000. When the flood came in a few years ago, all of the lower-income housing went away. Before the flood, you could find rooms for $500-$600 a month, but now those same rooms have gone up to a norm of $800-$1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment!
Same thing happened in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina: homes are lost due to an environmental crisis, new homes are built, but then those new homes are made unaffordable to that very same community.
The heat is rising and we need to respond to it the best we can, through equality and understanding, not through greed-based capital practices.
YS: Do you think homes are a human right?
DW: Let me rephrase that question into: “Is it a human privilege to house people without adequate shelter?” In the Catholic Tradition, Jesus asks people, “When did you feed me? When did you house me? When did you care for me? When I was homeless and when I was hungry and poor.”
And the people reply to him saying, “But you did not ask us to house you and feed you or care for you when poor.”
Jesus replies, “If you do it for my brothers and sisters, you did for me. When you did not do that for them, you did not do it for me. Just as you have turned the away from the poor, you have turned me away and so you also will be turned away.”
The homeless are people I know, my friends, people that I love. Whether you are religious or not, connecting with people without a home is an opportunity to make a friend and help people. They just aren’t people holding signs. They are people that can become your friends, people you can learn from and can learn from you. It is a privilege to have any kind of friend, whether they have a home or not. It is right to treat our neighbors like we treat ourselves. If you were homeless, wouldn’t you want somebody to open their door for you and show you kindness?
Every person has their gift to give to society. Every person has skills, ideas, and practices that they can give society, and not allowing those valuable resources to come into fruition is a failure of our human family. Homes are not just a human right, but it allows people the means to be able to cultivate their gifts to society. Poverty is an invitation to the community and, if we miss the invitation, we miss out.
YS: Could you please describe your current Tiny Home projects?
DW: What I want to do is buy a property, call it the Catholic Worker Ranch, 180,000 acres of mountain land with conservation properties. Because it is a conservation property, you cannot build current development homes, but you can build tiny homes. We would have eco-tourists come through and teach them about the homeless community, by the homeless community. We would have Permaculture principles and sustainable farming and living. We will be a retreat for scientists studying the conservation, funding the village. But the homeless need the retreat the most. The homeless need a retreat, a place to heal and walk around and feel the land, the Earth. But that is a future project.
Currently, I run the Dirty Dozen, a group of 12 homeless men, building their own tiny homes on an acre in Longmont. The phrase, “give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime” is no longer the issue. We have fishermen but need to give the fishermen fishing poles. We have carpenters, but we need to give the carpenters hammers. We have masons, but we need to give them stone. Homeless people are not stupid. They have skills. It is the proper allocation of resources and social-stereotyped myths that are the issues holding us back.
More information on the Dirty Dozen can be found at my website, NICE-World.org. That is what a nice world is about; where everybody’s needs get met. Not just the needs of the people, but the needs of the mycelia, the worms, the whole embodiment of Earth. We create a permaculture that includes our whole society, growing our own food, homes, and communities that people manage themselves through the natural structure. The “NICE” stands for the Network of Interfaith, Compassionate Entrepreneurs, where people collaborate through a faith, business, and compassion network for the common good.
We are trying to heal our sick world. We are being destroyed by industrial agriculture. We need to stop. We are doing damage to the Earth. People want to give their gift to society. If we can see the gift in all people, we can gain that gift, but we must see the gift to be given in the first place. The solution is not to cram people into some huge place, some kind of jail-like shelter, the solution is to give them a home and opportunity to give their gifts to society and help shape our world into a healthier place. But to make our world healthier, we need the inhabitants healthy.
Homeless people tell me they need help with their addictive personalities or their damaged bodies or their trauma. They need to reconcile with their families or a place to sleep and a place to bathe. Sleep deprivation makes people crazy, it kills people. Lastly, they told me they want a reason to get up in the morning, a place they look forward to going to. If they have a home, they find a way to give their gift to society and they will have that meaning.