One of the many volunteers who worked through the summer to get Madison’s first tiny house built says he has put in about 500 hours and hopes his friend can move into the seven-by-fourteen-foot home by Monday.
Keith Valiquette also hopes this is the first of many tiny houses to put more roofs over the heads of Madison's homeless.
"It's a peace of mind. It's your space," Valiquette said. "I mean, the other way is you're going to conduct your entire life in a public square."
The next step was to find a place for the souped-up shack. Without a change to city zoning rules, the house on wheels would have to move every 48 hours to a new parking spot.
Tuesday night, Madison's common council voted 18-2 to give those houses a more permanent home. The change allows religious institutions and nonprofits to have up to three "portable shelters" in their parking lots. That term would apply to the tiny houses, as well as campers and tents.
“There will be a lot of groundwork to do with the neighborhoods,” District 1 Alder Lisa Subeck said. “We're going to have to work with the folks who either have businesses or live within close proximity to be able to talk about it and to be able to determine whether that particular location is the best spot for it.”
Any church or charity that wants to put up the homeless like this will have to obtain a permit from the planning commission.
Subeck explained stipulations in the ordinance limit how close any set-up can be to someone’s property, so it is unlikely a church in a dense residential area would be approved. It also gives these organizations a chance to help, Subeck said, without having to establish a long-term shelter.
"It opens up this opportunity, yet churches can give it a shot without fear of being locked into something permanently," Subeck said.
Subeck said public education on this new rule will be important, and she expected any group opening their lots to the "portable shelters" to communicate with neighbors and businesses before allowing tiny houses, campers, or tents to park on their property.
"I would venture to say that it is much safer not only for people who are homeless," Subeck said. "But also for the neighbors to have folks in a more supportive living environment."
Subeck said Dane County officials have yet to select a location for a new day shelter. With winter approaching, she said innovative ideas like the tiny houses are even more important to consider.
In the meantime, Subeck said the city is starting to fund additional services for the homeless spending time in places like the library or church shelters.
In addition, alders unanimously approved a request for qualifications Tuesday night, allowing the city to seek developers’ proposals to build single-room occupancy facilities. Those facilities would cater to those who need affordable housing in Madison.
Common Council also looked at a statement of principles for homeless issues in the city. While just a resolution, Subeck said it clearly defines how the homeless community should be respected and treated.
"It starts a community discussion and it gets us thinking about some guiding principles that as we make decisions, as we take actions on other items that impact homeless individuals in our community, we use this statement of principles as a basic guide in order to guide our discussions," Subeck said.