Twenty-one years after leaving the U.S. Army, 51-year-old Linda Graves still struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. She said the beginning of fall is always difficult because it reminds her of traumatic experiences.
But on Saturday, Graves attended a workshop in Oakland designed to teach veterans how to build tiny homes. She said having the opportunity to gain new skills and work with other veterans was healing for her.
Operation Tiny Home, the national nonprofit which held the free workshop for veterans, is funding two of four tiny houses to be built on Southeast Cobb Street in partnership with local nonprofit Valiant Seed.
The United Community Action Network is funding two more tiny houses slated for the lot through private donations and grants. UCAN will manage the four tiny houses once they are constructed. But the groups don’t know when the houses will be finished because they have not yet secured necessary building permits.
The planned tiny house community in Roseburg is the first of its kind in the area. It seeks to address longstanding housing insecurity by providing affordable housing to at-risk veterans. The hope of Operation Tiny Home is that people who attended the workshop will leave with the skills necessary to duplicate the Cobb Street project elsewhere in the area or build their own tiny homes, according to Gabrielle Rapport, the executive director of Operation Tiny Home. She said the workshops are often therapeutic for veterans too.
“I’m learning so much,” Graves said at the workshop. “For me in particular, when I found out about this project it really touched me deeply that I had an opportunity to help another female veteran who was service-connected for PTSD.” Graves has also experienced homelessness.
Valiant Seed and UCAN will prioritize housing female veterans in the tiny homes when they’re constructed. Female veterans are nearly four times as likely to experience homelessness than their non-veteran peers, according to research published in the “Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved” in 2010.
A friend of Graves, who is also a veteran, saw that she was entering a depression this September. Her friend connected her with Operation Rebuild Hope, a North Bend-based nonprofit that helps veterans with home repairs to prevent homelessness. The nonprofit had plans to reconstruct a roof for a widow of a veteran.
At first, Graves didn’t know how she could help with the project because she had never worked in construction. Operation Rebuild Hope founder Patrick Wright told her that as long as she wasn’t afraid of heights and could handle shingles, he could use her help.
Graves said she worked all day with Wright — a marine veteran — barely saying a word.
“Just being with another veteran, I didn’t have to explain anything to him,” Graves said. “That camaraderie, that understanding of not having to explain what was going on inside of me. I had a mission, I had a task, I had structure.”
At the end of the day, Wright asked Graves if she could come back the next day, and she immediately said yes.
“It was like, ‘Okay, I have something I need to do tomorrow,’” Graves said. “I got to meet the widow, and she was overcome with emotion of how grateful she was that we were able to help her. That changed everything. It’s November, and I’m out here talking to people. I’m not holed up in my house.”
Veterans who experience homelessness suffer from a loss of dignity, Graves said. These nonprofits restore that dignity when they offer veterans a tiny house.
Graves added that learning how to build homes for veterans has restored her dignity in a way that more common veterans resources haven’t.
“I don’t want to talk badly about the VA because there are great resources there,” Graves said. “But earlier on it was kinda like, ‘Here, let’s put you on a cocktail of medication and send you on your way and you’ll be fine.’ They’re waking up to the fact that that’s just a Band-Aid and that you need to get to the source of the issue to help rebuild and restore the individual.”
She plans to use what she learned building the 480-square-foot house at the workshop to start a tiny house community for veterans in North Bend. Operation Rebuild Hope held a Veterans Day barbecue in North Bend to help raise money to purchase a property where it could build tiny houses.
Operation Tiny Home director Gabrielle Rapport said that’s exactly the outcome they hope to achieve by partnering with local nonprofits, such as Valiant Seed, for workshops.
Forty-five people learned how to construct the entire exterior of a tiny house during the three-day workshop. Rapport estimated that 80 percent of the attendees were veterans.
Tiny houses take up a small space, they’re easily managed and they give people dignity in a way that other affordable housing complexes don’t, according to Rapport.
Zach Giffin, the co-host of Tiny House Nation — a TV show about building tiny homes for at-risk groups — helped run the workshop. Rapport said Giffin is an expert who can teach anyone to build tiny houses. She added that working with Giffin gains Operation Tiny Home national attention, which helps the nonprofit get funding for projects around the country. Wells Fargo is funding the tiny home project in Roseburg.
“We find local companies that are willing to work with us for the building materials,” Rapport said.
She acknowledged that housing insecurity particularly for veterans has long been an issue in Southern Oregon. But she said local companies’ willingness to help the project by providing discounted materials has been notable.
M&D Enterprises in Oakland provided the warehouse space for the workshop, Budget Lumber in Roseburg provided discounted lumber and Discount Windows in Junction City provided discounted windows. The house constructed during the workshop would have cost at least $85,000 without discounts, according to Rapport.
She said local government officials have also shown support for the tiny house community on Cobb Street. Roseburg City Councilor Brian Prawitz attended all three days of the workshop.
Prawitz said tiny house communities won’t solve the housing crisis in the area, but they’re part of a solution. He said they won’t house people without any sources of income. A substantial portion of Douglas County’s housing insecure population has no income and perpetually lives on the streets.
“The housing crisis here has gotten to a point where we need new ideas,” Prawitz said. “This is designed for veterans who have some form of income, but cannot afford a first and last month deposit, for example.”
UCAN Executive Director Mike Fieldman said the nonprofit has been interested in getting involved in a tiny house project for a long time. Teresa Mankin, director of Valiant Seed, provided the enthusiasm to make it happen, according to Fieldman. UCAN has been working with the Battered Persons Advocacy to identify a female veteran who could occupy the first house on Cobb Street.
Mankin said Valiant Seed hopes to deconstruct the tiny house built in the warehouse during the workshop and then reconstruct it at the lot on Cobb Street by the spring. She said the weather and the amount of time it takes to acquire building permits will be factors in their construction timeline.
City and county building codes currently aren’t written for tiny houses, Fieldman said.
The project hasn’t yet received a building permit from the county building department.
Plans for the first two tiny houses have been submitted to the city, according to Stuart Cowie, Roseburg community development director. Cowie said that the plans for those two houses comply with code criteria for two single family dwellings, but if plans for two additional tiny homes are submitted, they need to fall under code criteria for a multi-family apartment complex.
Those code criteria don’t fit perfectly with the tiny house project, according to Fieldman. Multi-family apartment complex codes require one and a half parking spaces per unit, for example. Fieldman said he would apply for variances with the city to forego that requirement because it wouldn’t make sense to have that many parking spaces.
Cowie said such code discrepancies need to be resolved by creating new city codes.
“We need to develop city codes specifically for tiny houses,” Cowie said.
No one knows when the four tiny houses will be finished as a result of these permitting issues.
“Once we work through all the bugs on this one and figure out how to make it happen, we are hoping to be able to work with Valiant Seed again to move forward on some future projects,” Fieldman said.