(Trends Wide) — Jolinn Bracey slept in her Toyota Corolla for five years until she was no longer homeless by moving into a small house.
Bracey, 48, is one of 41 residents of The Chandler Boulevard Bridge Home Village in North Hollywood, California, which provides transitional housing for the homeless.
“This gave me a place to reconfigure and build my new home,” Bracey told Trends Wide. “It gave me back the practice of being consistent in the normal things you do. It makes you feel comfortable.”
Bracey moved into the 6-square-meter house in February. It has a bed, air conditioning, shelves to hang your colorful clothes and, most importantly, a door that closes.
“It’s the first time in a long time that I don’t feel like someone is going to mug me,” Bracey said.
She said a fire in a house she previously owned and an unfair eviction from a place she rented led to her being homeless.
The city of Los Angeles has more than 41,000 homeless people, according to the latest count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an independent joint powers authority created by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and the Mayor and City Hall of Los Angeles.
Towns like Chandler seek to reduce that number by placing the former homeless in protected and fenced off communities.
Help residents recover
At Chandler, case managers can offer residents help with anything from drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues, to navigating the complexities of job applications, health insurance, and more.
“We are dealing with people at the worst time of their lives,” says Rowan Vansleve, president of Hope of the Valley, the nonprofit that runs Chandler and other small house villages in the Los Angeles area.
“It’s really humble to say, ‘I can’t feed myself. I can’t stay. I can’t take a hot shower.’
Vansleve says new residents delight in that first shower on site, calling hot water and good soap that helps residents feel like a better person “magic.”
Residents also receive three meals a day.
“We do our best to make this place welcoming. We call it the ‘Love Club,'” adds Vansleve.
Despite the nickname, the town has rules. The first on the list is that no weapons or drugs are allowed on the premises, and that the paraphernalia must be registered in a locker outside.
Hope of the Valley says residents live in the houses for free and can stay while on a path to permanent housing, which counselors estimate takes three to six months.
Vansleve said the strategy is to get people off the streets within a few miles of the tiny house village, not from other parts of Southern California like Skid Row.
“Thus, the people of the neighborhood see less homeless, less garbage, less crime and fewer drug addicts roaming around,” he added. “I think these villages should be spread across the country like Starbucks – in every community.”
Vansleve says that tiny house towns are built on small plots, many of them repurposed on city property. The Chandler complex occupies only an acre.
A company from Everett, Washington, called Pallet, specializing in small foster homes for the homeless or people with temporary housing, built the houses in the village of Chandler. The company estimates that the minimum cost of each house is $ 5,495.
Pallet reports that it has helped build 44 small house villages, mostly on the West Coast, and has 13 projects underway.
Hope of the Valley aims to house more than 900 people by November, according to Vansleve.
“One of the lucky ones”
Completely out of sight of any passerby, Chandler resident Todd Dumanski loaded his clothes into the row of washers and dryers.
“I have been abusing heroin and polysubstances most of my life,” Dumanski said.
Dumanski, 36, said he once amassed a net worth of more than $ 1 million by founding a vitamin and supplement company in the Philadelphia area. However, he said bad luck in business and his drug use led him to the streets after moving to Los Angeles.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said, “because a lot of (addicted) people died.”
Dumanski described a dark homeless underworld filled with debilitating or deadly drug abuse, rampant robberies, all forms of violence, including sexual assaults on women and men, and shooting.
“I was shot six times, with a revolver, by three members of the gang,” Dumanski said.
“They were young, maybe 18 to 24 years old. They shot me because they wanted my place for one of their friends who would soon be homeless.”
Dumanski said he had built an elaborate shelter near Highway 170, hidden from view, and installed a grill.
Now, Dumanski lives in a tiny house 1 mile away, with little more than his bed, toiletries and a huge jug of water with a handle that he lifts to add to his workouts.
“I like to put everything in a backpack,” says Dumanski. “I do not attribute emotions to material things. Technically, from the outside I have nothing, but I feel that I have everything.”
Dumanski once owned a house and a BMW, but also feelings of depression and suicide, he noted.
“If you give me tens of thousands of dollars, that is not going to help me right now,” Dumanski said. “I am right where I want to be right now. I know what I have to do to move forward. This place has been a game changer for me.”
Pay in advance
Every little house is different. Interior styling ranges from Dumanski’s minimalist white to Bracey’s kaleidoscopic blinks of purples, reds and aqua.
“My decor is just me: I’m colorful, funky,” Bracey declared. “I think outside the box.”
Inside her little home, Bracey dreamed out loud of earning a bachelor’s degree and pouring all the goodwill she found in Chandler onto the people who are currently homeless.
He says he’s two classes away from finishing an associate’s degree at Los Angeles Valley Community College.
“I just want to help everyone not go through what I went through,” Bracey said.
At the end of the month, according to Bracey, she plans to move into an apartment. It will be at the end of the street, not far from the parking lot where he used to sleep in his car.