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A display of colorful murals made using wooden planks surrounded by wooden planter boxes.

Tiny houses to shelter 12 Richmond youth, but much more is needed to address increasing demand

on September 29, 2023

Unhoused young people in Richmond will soon have a new housing option — the Richmond Tiny House Village Garden and Farm, the city’s response to the growing number of youth who lack secure housing. 

Richmond City Council this month approved a lease for the land with the Richmond Police Activities League, allowing the planned Richmond Tiny House Village Garden and Farm to continue moving forward. Groundbreaking is set for Saturday, with completion in July. 

The village will provide emergency transitional housing for young people who are facing homelessness, specifically those who have aged out of the foster care system. 

“I get calls every day from young people that are on the street that are trying to figure out what they’re going to do. And it’s just awful. It’s just awful,” said Sally Hindman, who helped create the Oakland Tiny House Empowerment Village and will co-manage the Richmond village with Inti Gonzalez. “Much more attention is needed. We need more permanent supportive housing.”

In an empty lot there is a billboard with pictures of people working in a community farm and garden. The billboard reads, "The Farm and Garden. Planting soon..."
Billboard on the Tiny House Village Farm and Garden Project site in Richmond.(Yichong Qiu)

From 2017 to 2023, the number of homeless youth in Contra Costa County increased by 53%, but there are more homeless youth hiding behind the number. As the most recent Point-in Time count shows, there were 2,372 homeless people in Contra Costa County in January, including approximately 119 between the ages of 18 and 24 — the target age for Richmond Tiny House Village. Richmond had the highest homeless population in the county. 

But the count takes place only on a single day, a method that results in undercounting, particularly for youths, said Pixie Popplewell, director of the California Youth Project. And young people who don’t have a set address often stay in the shadows. 

“Youth are really good at hiding their homelessness,” said Heather Flynn, vice president of development at Covenant Houses California, a statewide nonprofit helping homeless youth. “They look the same as their peers, but that doesn’t mean that they have housing security.” 

Richmond is just a microcosm of what is happening in California.

According to a recent study by UCSF, California has the largest number of homeless people in the United States, accounting for half of the nation’s unsheltered population. For the 26,335 youth who were homeless in January, the state had only 5.994 dedicated beds. About 35% of young people who have no permanent home are living in places not meant for human habitation, according to the California Youth Homeless Dashboard, which puts the number of unaccompanied youth in Contra Costa County at more than 300. And more than three-quarters of the county’s unhoused youth have no bed. 

The housing crisis in the Bay Area is one of the main contributors to youth homelessness. 

The median rent for all bedrooms and all property types in the Bay Area is more than $3,700, which is 80% higher than the national median. Meanwhile, an individual who has a full-time minimum-wage job would earn approximately $2,480 a month, which is barely higher than the median rent of a one-bedroom apartment. 

A flyer titled, "Ground Honoring", features two hands holding dirt with a plant growing. The flyer appears to be from the Richmond Tiny House Village, Farm and Garden promoting an event that will be having speakers, interfaith blessing, and more.
Flyer for Saturday’s groundbreaking. (Amaray Alvarez)

Local youth in Richmond have identified the lack of stable and affordable housing as the number one obstacle they face in meeting their goals. Those who manage to find housing can quickly lose it because of the expense, said Hindman, coordinator at the Bay Area nonprofit Tiny Village Spirit.

“A lot of young people are just at the beginning of their work lives, so they are in the middle of starting to get the training that they need and really to figure out what their careers are going to be,” Hindman said. “That makes it harder for them to be in an income bracket that makes it possible to pay Bay Area rent.”

Richmond currently only has one short term youth shelter, Calli House, that provides 15 beds for people in this age range and allows a maximum stay of four months. Those assisted by Calli House, however, are from throughout the Bay Area; it is not exclusive for those unhoused in Richmond, creating a need for the Tiny House Village.

Realizing the urgency of the situation, Hindman and youth employed by Tiny Village Spirit created the Tiny House Village Farm and Garden Project that City Council backed at its Sept. 12 meeting. 

The goal is to increase the number of emergency housing units serving Richmond youth by adding 12. 

“We want to make sure that we find solutions to the unhoused situation,” said Richmond City Council Vice Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who has been working with Tiny Spirit in getting the project started. “For the youth in particular, they are a vulnerable group that need our support to move them into a safe space.”

Modeled after the tiny house village in Oakland that has 22 units, the dozen Richmond village housing units will be 8-by-14 feet, with a Murphy bed, desk, chair and windows. Two communal yurts with kitchen and laundry areas will serve the village, as well as a bathroom trailer. 

The village will cost about  $976,536 to build and is being funded mostly by community and religious groups, including $120,000 from the Mormon Church and $65,000 from the Contra County Measure X sales tax. 

Designed by the architecture department at University of San Francisco, the homes will be built by community members, including high school students, and will feature brightly painted planks decorated with murals and spiritual messages. The Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, which supports the unhoused population, will assist in painting the houses. 

This is a long shot of the murals painted by the youth of Richmond. There are many large wooden plant boxes in vibrant colors and they appear to be in a lot.
Tiny houses under construction for youth in Richmond. (Amaray Alvarez)

Hindman and Gonzalez are leading a group of high school student employees through the Richmond Police Activities League to complete the project. 

Student Enrique Salas was motivated to sign up after seeing a family member struggle with housing insecurity. “After doing this project, I feel like I can help other youth out there in Richmond,” 16- year-old Enrique told Richmond Confidential. 

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development will help to select Tiny Village residents. The young people will be allowed to stay a maximum of two years and will be asked to pay one-third of their monthly income as rent. Vocational training will be provided to aid residents in finding and maintaining a job once they’ve transitioned to permanent housing.

“Affordable housing units are in great demand. The majority of these projects typically have little or no vacancy and very often have waiting lists,” said Jesus M. Morales, Richmond housing manager.

The other two transitional housing programs for 18-to-24-year-olds in the county also only provide a temporary solution. 

According to Morales, an additional 135 units of affordable housing will start being developed on 38th Street in Richmond next year, though they will not be designated specifically for young people.

(Top photo by Yichong Qiu)

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  1. Thomas on October 12, 2023 at 8:19 am

    I been call211 for so long they haven’t helped me at all and I was calling every morning I know people that call and they put them in a tiny home or in a hotel ,I’m disable to you guys tell me I have to be on prole or probation I got to go do a crime so I could get the rooms I don’t want to die on these streets so hopefully this will touch some one and maybe something could happen

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