Local groups fight to bring tiny homes to Norfolk's homeless population

Tiny Houses Big Opposition
Posted at 5:18 AM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 05:50:47-05

NORFOLK, Va. - A tiny house can make a big difference, especially for people living on the streets.

"We're being neglected. Sometimes we're being mocked. Out here in the Norfolk community, there's a problem," said a man named Eric.

Eric is a Navy veteran who has lived on the streets of Norfolk for about two years. He said it has been tough, and oftentimes houseless men and women feel pushed aside by leaders and others living nearby.

"We have had people come out here brandish guns, shoot paintballs, say obscene things, cut people's tents that were donated to them," he said. "The city and the state have failed in this obligation to assist the community, because the people out here are also part of this community."

Even with a job, he said he didn't make enough to keep a roof over his head. He had been in and out of hotels, but that quickly became too expensive.

Eric was down on his luck - until he met Katrinia Freeman.

"My goal is to make sure that everyone is housed and you feel like an individual," said Freeman.

Freeman founded the #KeepVaWarmInitiative, where volunteers hand out free supplies and clothes to people without a home. She met Eric one day on 19th Street as she was delivering pre-packaged bags filled with soaps and sanitizers.

Completely run by volunteers and community donations, the group also started helping with housing. Mainly, they booked hotel rooms for people without a home so they didn't spend the cold nights outside.

Freeman said, "We spent over $3,800 on housing them and personal items for them."

These actions soon caught the attention of another local group, Tidewater Tenants Rights. The group has been known to advocate on many platforms for fair housing in underserved communities.

Tidewater Tenants Rights reached out to the #KeepVaWarmInitiative, and the idea to bring tiny homes to Norfolk was born.

"It gets people off the streets and a step closer to getting a more normal life," said Tidewater Tenants group member Avanti Garedo.

Tiny homes are typically between 100 and 400 sq. feet, but they can be up to 1,000 sq. feet. Regardless of the size, they are generally only furnished with the necessities.

Garedo said this is a perfect solution for our area, "not only for its simplicity, but for sustainability. It's environmentally friendly, and also it's affordable."

However, the big question that lingers now is: Where will these tiny houses go? Organizers said one of the first steps is buying a piece of land.

"We do have some locations in mind that we're looking at, but we're just getting the scope of the area," Garedo said.

Because of the gravity of this task, they're hoping the community will donate money, resources and expertise.

Shinelle Whitaker, a member of #KeepVaWarm, said, "I'm sure we're going to need contractors and stores and vendors that are going to donate supplies and we can get these houses built."

Eric said that this could be the inspiration and change that so many people need. He said it opens the door for people to build skill sets to maintain on their own and in a sense of independence and a sense of normalcy.

Passionately, he added, "Everybody talks, but nobody wants to walk. We as a community have to help each other. The word 'community' means more than one group of people who are in a group or social class that are all in this together."

Click here if you would like to help or learn more about the Tidewater Initiative Tinyhomes Sanctuary.