Tiny House, Big Impact: New Development Provides Permanent Home for Vt. Man

A partnership in central Vermont is eyeing solutions for homelessness

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A pilot program in central Vermont is looking at whether tiny homes can have a big impact on access to safe, permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness or those at risk.

"For people who haven't had their own place permanently, to be able to live in such amazing units — it's quite incredible," said Penny Martin of Washington County Mental Health Services, referring to a new tiny home in Barre that a man is moving into Friday.

The 300-square-foot efficient home, next to another just like it and an apartment house, now form something of a community for people either experiencing homelessness or who are right on the edge.

One of the residents is a peer support provider, and the units are close to a clinic of Washington County Mental Health Services.

The Norwich University Design+Build Collaborative has been focusing on addressing community need recently, with its students working in hands-on ways to conceive of buildings that will make a difference.

Ben Carlson of North Andover, Massachusetts, is a Norwich architecture student who helped design the tiny home.

"It feels like a nice, cozy place to be in," Carlson said of the tiny home the collaborative designed. "To also be able to do it for a good cause was incredible."

The houses sit on land donated by Barre's former mayor, Thom Lauzon, and his wife, Karen. The development was funded by the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board and the charity arm of TD Bank.

Even though federal COVID-19 relief money has paid for hotel vouchers for a few thousand housing-insecure Vermonters, many of whom were couch surfing before the pandemic, advocates say that type of program doesn't work for everyone and simply isn't financially sustainable.

A model teaming social services providers with community development groups and nonprofits could be just one possible solution to the complex issue of homelessness, according to partners on the tiny house project.

"We are documenting all of our learning here, and hoping that this will be replicated in other parts of, whether it's Barre or Washington County or around the state," said Julie Curtin, the chief operating officer of Downstreet Housing & Community Development in Barre.

The resident of the new tiny home said in a statement through Washington County Mental Health Services that he's grateful to finally be living independently — with easy access to wrap-around support if he needs it.

Another big benefit was obvious in Thursday's snow and cold temperatures.

"The first thing I experienced was warmth," Mary Moulton of Washington County Mental Health Services said of her tour of the finished tiny house. "And people who don't have a house today don't have that."

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