You know that the tiny house movement has been around for a couple of decades now and has helped completely transform how people think about how they live. For many, the lure to downsize and live a simpler lifestyle brought them to the alternative housing idea of tiny houses. For others, a tiny house is their way to escape a life that may not be the best for them or their family as they are challenged with poverty, abuse, neglect, or homelessness. This story is about how tiny houses in Oshkosh, WI, are creating significant opportunities for families in crisis.
The big opportunity we’re going to explore is the collaboration between the Oshkosh Kids Foundation (OKF) and their goal of building a tiny house village to help the homeless families of Oshkosh with volunteer funds for maintenance and sustainability and their 17 community partners in this venture.
Why a tiny house village in Oshkosh, WI?
Why not? In speaking with the Director of OKF, Julie Dumke, Oshkosh was identified as the city with the fastest increase in extreme poverty for the last seven years, according to the Alice report.
United for Alice looks at data in “24 states and represents the growing number of families unable to afford the basics of housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and technology. These workers often struggle to keep their households from financial ruin while keeping our local communities running.”
Unfortunately, this affects not only adults in the area but children. The poverty rate of families enrolled in the Oshkosh school system is 43%***. To put this in perspective, the Section 8 Housing program, funded by the federal government and facilitated by local public housing, considers extremely low-income families to earn roughly 30 percent below the average. And to make matters a little more complicated, Oshkosh had the highest number of recorded homeless in February 2022 (WHC).***
So OKF has been working hard with 17 community partners to do something about it. Enter the tiny house village.
What the tiny house village will entail
The tiny house village will provide affordable, short-term housing for families while they learn life, financial, and home management skills. This program is to provide these families with stable and safe housing and prevent homelessness.
The housing program, combined with services and education, will help these families learn skills in a community environment while they learn how to thrive in a rental or purchase a home.
How the tiny house village plans to teach and help with alternative housing
The first order of building is the tiny house village community center. This community center will have offices for local community services to consult with the tiny home residents and provide the financial, life, and home management education they need to be productive in the Oshkosh community. They will go through programs on financial goal setting, Rent Smart housing program, mental health counseling with Rawhide, and employment counseling. To sign a lease in the tiny house village, residents must agree to participate in the programs.
The layout of the tiny house village
The village will consist of 32 tiny houses, each housing a 4-person family. They will have a six-month to 18-month lease until transitional housing can be secured. They will then be helped with rent assistance for another six months until they are employed, have transportation for school and work, and have set up a stable lifestyle with the help of their counselors.
The tiny house opportunity for families in crisis
Many potential residents of the tiny house village are currently homeless or barely getting by in short-term housing. These families are in crisis and need a safe and stable home to settle in and relieve the stress in their lives. The children in these families need to know that there is another way to live that doesn’t involve only being able to survive from day to day.
By building a community through the tiny house village, the OKF is hoping that these families will heal but also learn to rely on each other for community support.
The impact the Oshkosh Kids Foundation is having on the community
In 2021, the OKF housed 41 families and 92 kids with motel stays, rent assistance, or security deposits. Covid increased the homelessness problem in Oshkosh, and OKF began helping 127 families with 378 kids. That is a total of 1111 nights provided in motels at the cost of $55,111.33.
For those families in rentals receiving rent assistance, OKF provided 40+ mattresses, beds & bedding, food, gas cards, hygiene products, clothes, lice kits, household items, and pay for fees. But this trend is unsustainable, which is why the tiny house village is vital to the area.
Work begins at the community center.
We visited the tiny house building site on July 15th to see what has taken shape after the groundbreaking on July 8th. The foundation walls for the community center have been poured, and land development work is taking place to ready the site for the utilities and tiny home services.
There was a tiny home model on site. We took some exterior pictures of what the homes will look like and were provided some interior 3-D renderings by OKF.
The whole site will have an east and west street with seven homes and eight tiny homes along the back of the property. There will be two central areas around the community center with rows of 5 tiny homes, two community gardens, a playground, and two pavilions.
Alternative housing options will be following the build of this tiny house village. Each week we plan to visit the site and report on the progress the crew is making. With every passing week, we hope to show the great work that the OKF and community of Oshkosh are doing and can’t wait to see how this village has a positive impact on the community.
***all stats were provided by the Oshkosh Kids Foundation.***