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: Housing and Public Health: Tiny Homes May Have a Big Impact

Housing and Public Health: Tiny Homes May Have a Big Impact

Project Manager

When most people think about public health, they probably think about vaccines, clinics, exercise, nutrition, and smoke-free policies. But what doesn't get much thought in the realm public health is the basic need for shelter: safe and affordable housing. Even among the well-employed, finding affordable housing (especially in the Washington, D.C. area) can be a stressful proposition.

Unfortunately, housing prices continue to increase in many metropolitan areas, and economic or health crises (or one fueled by the other) can leave people on the streets. This can not only cause health problems from exposure and from chronic stress, but can exacerbate existing problems or create a barrier to getting assistance.

It makes sense that a lack of housing pretty much puts the kibosh on being able to maintain good personal health and hygiene. However, it can also impact getting health care in other ways because if one is without housing, there is no address to list in order to receive aid. This is especially true when people are trying to rehabilitate from substance abuse problems.

But it's not a lost cause. In exciting news, several cities have begun implementing small and affordable housing, often termed "tiny houses," as an alternative to homeless shelters and other services. I first heard of houses like this through viral media, as various people began building tiny houses for themselves--sometimes even portable. But it seems that this viral momentum has shifted into projects that have a much greater impact than just on one individual or family.

The project that the city of Portland, OR, is working on will include 25 houses that will cost between $250 and $350 each month to rent and will be available to people earning less than $15,000 a year. Portland is not the first city to implement such innovative housing solutions. Other similar projects have been built in Wisconsin, New York, and Texas, and the results have been both impressive and heartwarming. In addition to shelter and security, having a place to live, however tiny, brings a feeling of dignity to individuals who may otherwise be living on the street. Some, like The Brook in NYC, have a bit more structure to them. The Brook provides what is termed "permanent supportive housing," which includes not only shelter but security, social workers, and a physician. Projects like these keep otherwise homeless people not only in a safe space but also out of hospital emergency rooms, which ends up saving the city considerable amounts of money.

According to Rosanne Haggerty, founder of NYC's Common Ground, which facilitates the transformation of derelict buildings into housing and community centers for the homeless, artists, and low-wage workers, "a stable home linked to jobs and health and mental health supports ended homelessness for good." Providing permanent, affordable housing solutions, rather than temporary shelters, seems like the way forward in solving our nations increasing battle with homelessness.

For more information on tiny houses and a listing of those available check out,

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