Are Tiny Homes Helping Homeless People?

Illustration by Kelly Yan

Maya Silver

Staff Writer

COVID-19 has increased homelessness in many areas across the country, including Isla Vista. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created guidelines on how to manage the spread of COVID-19 among areas where homelessness was more prevalent. 

In Isla Vista (I.V.), many of the homeless reside in the public parks of Anisq’Oyo Park, Camino Corto Open Space, and Sueno Orchard. The number of homeless people staying at these parks also increased during the pandemic, which led Governor Gavin Newsom to implement the COVID-19 Encampment Management Policy. 

The policy, which has been put into effect by the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District (IVRPD) along with community partners and stakeholders, proposes using tiny homes as temporary shelters for the homeless in Isla Vista. 

The Isla Vista Community Center (IVCC) worked with the social purpose company Pallet to build tiny homes, located in the parking lot of the IVCC. These shelters are 64 square feet and meant to be a “transition into permanent housing, at a fraction of the cost of traditional shelter alternatives.” 

“The number of homeless people staying at [these] parks also increased during the pandemic, which led Governor Gavin Newsom to implement the COVID-19 Encampment Management Policy.”

The shelters were built in December 2020 and were filled by houseless community members shortly after. Through the IVRPD, the homeless were relocated from tents and other forms of temporary housing in Isla Vista’s public parks — there are 20 tiny trailer homes in total. 

The transition has faced some backlash from Isla Vista community members. The organization, Food Not Bombs Isla Vista, which is dedicated to providing free meals for the underprivileged throughout the community, posted a photo on Instagram in December regarding the relocation efforts, calling them “the direct result of coercion through [sic] the threat of assault [sic], arrest, and imprisonment.”

The account goes on in other posts to argue that the houseless population of I.V. is still a part of the community, condemning public comments that praise the IVCC and other organizations for evicting the houseless from public parks.

The IVRPD’s COVID-19 Encampment Report states that the “IVRPD is sympathetic to the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on individuals experiencing homelessness.” IVRPD displayed their sympathy by suspending some of their policies that keep public parks open to the public — rather than act as shelters — such as suspending encampment and dumping of property on the public parks. If implemented, these new policies would have resulted in disciplinary action for the houseless.

Food Not Bombs Isla Vista has argued that the actions of the IVRPD, nonetheless, are “out of line” given the severity of the pandemic and the lack of respect among the community for the houseless in general: “DO NOT interpret this move as something [the houseless] preferred, as it is the direct result of coercion through the threat of assault, arrest, and imprisonment.”