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LA Officials Bring The Hammer Down On Tiny Houses For Homeless

Irene "Smokie" McGhee, a woman who had been sleeping on the streets in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, listens to music in the doorway of her newly built tiny home last May.
Damian Dovarganes
Irene "Smokie" McGhee, a woman who had been sleeping on the streets in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, listens to music in the doorway of her newly built tiny home last May.

Elvis Summers is not part of any nonprofit or government agency. He's just a 38-year-old guy with a Mohawk and tattooed arms who started a GoFundMe campaign last spring so he could build tiny houses for homeless people to live in. He got the idea after befriending a homeless woman in his neighborhood.

"It just got to me, you know, I'm just like, you know, everybody in this neighborhood knows you, they like you," he says. "Why does nobody give a crap that you're sleeping in the dirt? Literally."

So far Summer has given out 37 tiny 6- by 8-foot houses, which cost $1,200 each to build. They resemble sheds, painted in bright, solid colors, with solar panels on the roof, wheels to make them mobile and a portable camping toilet.

But recently, city sanitation workers confiscated three of the houses from a sidewalk in South Los Angeles and tagged others for removal.

"Unfortunately, these structures are a safety hazard," says Connie Llanos, a spokeswoman for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. "These structures, some of the materials that were found in some of them, just the thought of folks having some of these things in a space so small, so confined, without the proper insulation, it really does put their lives in danger."

Llanos says they'd be better off taking advantage of official resources like shelters or housing vouchers.

According to the latest count, 44,000 people live on the streets in and around LA. The city's sweep put some people back on the sidewalks and since then Summers has been handing out tents instead.

Willie Hadnot lost his tiny house when the city confiscated it.

"About my house, you know, you know I had a peace of mind," he says. "I could shut the door, go lay down, quiet. And that's what I miss a whole lot, man. I don't want to start crying."

Someone who understands that pain is Kevin Green, whose tiny house was tagged for removal. Before the city could take it, Summers moved it to the parking lot where it now stands, temporarily.

"When you're homeless, your day is consumed with, you know, that you don't have a place to store your things so you're walking around carrying all this stuff with you, you know, what can you get accomplished?" asks Green, who lived on the streets of South LA for six months before he got this house around Christmas. His bed takes up most of his tiny blue house. Green's proud to have a roof over his head as he opens the door and steps inside.

"I have two windows, one on each side with blue curtains, thin enough to allow the breeze to come through," he says. "You know, I keep my keys around a keychain that I hang around my neck.

"But you know, it's a constant reminder with it around my neck that I have something that I can call mine."

Copyright 2016 KCRW

Anna Scott
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