“She wears the tightest pants she can find to make sexual assault as difficult as possible,” explains Rowan Vansleve, CFO at Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, of women who live on the streets unhoused. “Women are at particular risk, especially the elderly for abuse and illness.”
L.A.’s homeless crisis has exploded and, in the last year, grew by 12.7%, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to LAHSA’s homelessness count last year, about 568,000 people in the United States are experiencing homelessness, with 151,000 in California, 66,436 in Los Angeles County, and 41,290 in Los Angeles. California has devoted millions of dollars toward stemming this drastic inflow of the unhoused, and yet the problem is growing worse with no end in sight.
I recently had the opportunity to visit a nonprofit that is determined to change the narrative for the unhoused and “make homelessness history.” The Hope of The Valley Rescue Mission, among other resources and support, has provided and created four tiny home villages in LA County with more on the way. They have been featured by almost every major local news outlet and nationally on People, NY Post, Good Morning America, and more. The goal is to provide a safe and dignified 3-6 month housing transition to get people off the streets.
So what can one expect at these tiny home villages?
These L.A. Tiny homes measure 64 square and can house up to two individuals. Each person is strategically paired together to prevent any altercations. Most importantly, for unhoused women, there is a lock on the door, which provides safety and protection. The “campus” is enclosed with a white fence for privacy and cameras for residents. They have brightly painted colored houses as well as stripes along the main road, and this is because The Hope of the Valley does not want their village to look like an institution. There is a dog park for pets (having a pet often prevents the unhoused from accessing shelters). The village also provides special bins designed for each person to hold special memories that only they can access. Many of the items found in these bins are photo albums of their families or even the ashes of their loved ones. One can expect a hot shower, laundry facilities, and three meals a day, along with a case manager and many other resources for transitional support.
How does the process work?
Residents who stay come from the local area. They are those that are unhoused within a couple of mile radius of the village. This keeps them in an area they are already familiar with. When a new individual arrives, they can work with a case manager and discuss issues and identify resources for help. They are not expected to arrive clean and off drugs. Many religious groups, mental health professionals, and even lawyers even come into the village to aid these people. Each house is comfortable and contains a heater and a fully functioning AC system.
If I had to describe the tiny homes in one word, it would be breathtaking. The process, the campus, the resources, everything seems to offer an approach and solution to the terrible crisis of homelessness. Most importantly, it provides a place where the unhoused can transition slowly, a place that is dignified and a safe place. It gives the unhoused a chance to start getting back on their feet.
Although my tour at these tiny homes was amazing, I was horrified to hear that some staff members at The Valley of Hope were receiving death threats, claiming that these tiny homes are not “patriotic” and detrimental for society. The common NIMBY threat reverberated throughout (NOT IN MY BACKYARD). In contrast, this nonprofit was also attacked by progressive groups criticizing the tiny village as institutionalizing the homeless. One thing I know is that you can’t please everyone, and this is at the very least a start to begin transitioning people.
Another word I would use to describe the village is welcoming. From the vibrant painted colors to the well-organized houses with gift baskets, blue soothing comforter (residents can take these with them when they leave), and small snacks, everything just felt welcoming. Every detail seems to have been thoughtfully planned.
So how can YOU help?
The number one thing teens can do is telling the story of The Hope of the Valley. In my interview with CFO Rowan Vansleve, he states, “teens can truly play a role in helping by expanding and sharing these stories of change and really getting the word out there.” I recommend following and sharing Hope of the Valley’s social media pages which are linked below.
For more planned and organized support, Hope of the Valley is open to receiving donated items such as comforters, toiletries, and pillows, and this link contains items that are included on their wish list.
For inspired teens, they can create a fundraiser and fund a tiny home for $3,000 which also allows you to put your name on a plaque that is found on the tiny home, which a special gift to give back and make a difference!