Sixty ‘tiny homes’ for the homeless could go up next to 16th St. BART — if the community abides.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen told Mission Local that she is considering 1979 Mission St. as a potential destination for city-funded “tiny homes,” shed-like structures with a bed, locks, and heat intended for homeless individuals. Tiny homes are meant to be lived in temporarily, with the hope that residents eventually move into permanent housing.
“I don’t want anybody sleeping on the streets of the Mission,” Ronen said. “The bottom line is, there are not enough spaces for all the people experiencing homelessness in the city. So we have to create more.”
The 16th Street tiny homes could take care of 60 of the 664 unhoused residents tallied in District 9 during the 2022 Point-In-Time count.
Tiny homes could be a win-win solution, the supervisor said, and she and the city are negotiating guarantees that the Mission’s unhoused gets first dibs. “The whole point is we are providing these life-changing services for [the homeless], but also improving street conditions.”
Plenty of characteristics made 1979 Mission St., known colloquially as the Monster/Marvel in the Mission, a favorable site: It’s large, vacant, and thanks to a 2021 development deal, owned by the city.
Though the site will eventually welcome some 300 affordable housing units, it has been dormant for years. If the tiny homes are constructed there, hopes are they will be transferred to another site once the affordable housing construction starts, Ronen said.
It’s not a done deal, yet though. While the city already approved the funding for tiny homes, Ronen said, the city and supervisor want the community’s input before deciding they belong in the Mission.
“It cannot be done until we do all the outreach in the community, and we address concerns,” Ronen said. Then, “we decide if it still makes sense.”
One anticipated worry? Less than a quarter mile from the proposed tiny home village is Marshall Elementary School. To introduce parents to the idea, Ronen took some Marshall Parent Teacher Association members to tour 33 Gough St. weeks ago. That site was the city’s first tiny home village; it officially opened this year with homes built at $15,000 a pop. “It’s calm and peaceful, there’s no chaos. They were really impressed,” Ronen said. The tour left Ronen feeling she would be thrilled to have her own kids “learn next to something so positive.”
In January, Ronen plans on holding at least one exclusive meeting about tiny homes with the Marshall community, and another that is open to the general public.
Mission Local reached out to the Marshall PTA, but has not heard back.
Ronen wants to model the Mission’s tiny homes after Gough’s, though the chosen developer will decide the design. The Gough tiny homes are 64-square-feet, have heat, a desk, a bed, and a window, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Tiny homes change the entire feeling of what temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness was like,” the supervisor said. “I’ve never seen a better short-term shelter option before. It feels like a community, a neighborhood.”
Mission Local visited 33 Gough St., and was politely denied entry by an Urban Alchemy staffer, who manages services and secures the site. However, a peek through the fence revealed prettily painted tiny homes, and an outdoor space spruced up with tables, benches, bushes and plants.
On Thursday afternoon, a couple of men, one who appeared to be smoking a cigarette, talked quietly at one of the tables. Another man dressed in a Pikachu onesie bent outside a home. One woman recognized another man and greeted him good-humoredly. “Mr. Africa!” She grinned. “You were dancing to that music last time, weren’t you?”
“I think it’s helping them,” said Antuan Jones, a security guard across the street at the Human Services Agency. He said this is an upgrade from the site’s previous purpose as a “safe sleeping village,” which hosted 44 tents and counseling for the unhoused. Jones imagined fighting off the elements in a tent was “horrible. You’re still getting the rain, the wind is blowing your tent.”
Though he sits across from the tiny homes day after day, Jones said he hardly notices it. “They’re very quiet over there,” he said.
Wilson Garcia, a day porter on McCoppin Street, has observed that since the tiny home village opened this spring, fewer encampments have sprung up. “Before, you cross under the trees,” he said, motioning to some in the middle of McCoppin Street, “and you’d see 10 tents. Now, it’s one or two. People call the police, and they’re gone.”
Overall, the streets are cleaner, Garcia said, and he sees less trash overall.
LaDiamond Garrett, who was parking her car at McCoppin Street, said the village may have reduced the number of unhoused people crowding her work. “I hope it works out,” Garrett said.
“They either piss, or shit, or leave their needles on the sidewalk. I’d rather have them there,” a terse passerby quipped.
If approved, the Mission tiny homes could arrive, at earliest, by the end of 2023 or early 2024, Ronen said. The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing did not respond to Mission Local’s requests for comment.
Tiny homes are a fairly new tool to combat homelessness, and have been adopted by San Jose and Oakland in recent years. Unhoused residents and advocates say the individualistic nature of tiny homes allow privacy and security, which make them preferable to homeless shelters.
However the city’s ultimate goal — and thus, metric of success — is how many folks transition to permanent housing. A recent Mercury News investigation found mixed results about whether a tiny home resident ended up scoring permanent supportive housing. Still, the investigation found those who lived in tiny homes were more likely to find permanency than those living in congregate shelters.
And, the more amenities and resources offered at a tiny home village, the more likely the resident transitioned to permanent housing. As the city stands to lose homeless and addiction resources like family homeless shelters and the Tenderloin Center, tiny homes could be important, said the security guard, Jones.
“There should be more of them,” Jones said. “Why not build something for the homeless?”