Saturday, December 1, 2018

Olympia Tiny Home Village Takes Shape

Above: City of Olympia Councilmember Clark Gilman, left, and Scott Bishop, in green vest, lead a team in positioning a side wall for a tiny house at the new Plum Street Village for the homeless on Saturday. Yul Gamboa, a social worker with Molina Healthcare, is in the blue shirt. 

Housing rights are human rights...this is direct action. Where is our morality if we don't help?” - Yul Gamboa

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Like an old-fashioned barn raising party, about 65 volunteers came together to get a lot done on Saturday.

The task at hand was to build tiny homes with porches and a community kitchen and meeting space for 40 homeless individuals at the new Plum Street Village in Olympia.

It is called the Plum Street Village because it is located at 830 Union Avenue SE near the intersection of Union and Plum Street, adjacent to the Yashiro Japanese Garden.

At least six of the tiny homes will have ramps and be accessible in accordance with the American Disabilities Act.

On November 27, the City of Olympia approved funding and leasing agreements with LIHI to operate the village, which is expected to open in January 2019.

While living at the village, residents will meet with LIHI case managers to obtain permanent housing, health care, employment, treatment, education, and other services.

To learn more about the project, the city is holding a public meeting on Thursday, December 6, 6:00 p.m., Room A, at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW.

Above: Shane Oprescu of Olympia operates a chop saw at the Plum Street Village work party on Saturday. She was responsible for creating 60 sections of wood, each 14 ½ inches long, to be used as support pieces under the community kitchen and meeting space, seen taking shape behind her.

Volunteers came from all over: Joint Base Lewis McChord, the Veterans Administration, local schools, churches, the Lions Club, and local nonprofits. Others were simply individuals who read about the opportunity to help.

Carpentry and painting were new experiences for some, but there were plenty of coaches on hand to show volunteers what to do. 

Shannon Noel, Tiny House Village painting director for LIHI, demonstrated painting techniques.

“All the paint we are using is donated,” Noel told Little Hollywood. “We take all the random exterior paints that people have donated and create new palettes. The colors are rich. Some tiny houses come pre-painted, but we have a say in how they are painted here,” she said.

Luke Reynolds, Tiny House Village Essential Needs Coordinator for LIHI, supervised the day’s activities. Two carpenters with ANEW, an apprenticeship and non-traditional employment program, led the work parties, ensured area safety and provided volunteers with structured assignments.

Several Olympia city councilmembers participated with the effort. In the morning, Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones helped build several porches. Later in the afternoon, councilmembers Lisa Parshley and Jessica Bateman painted.

Councilmember Clark Gilman put his extensive experience as a carpenter to work all day, teaching skills and directing volunteers to do whatever task was needed. Gilman is a member of the South Puget Sound Carpenters Union Local 129.

Some tiny homes for the village are being built off-site. Reynolds said some of the homes are being built by Unitarian Universalist Church members and by pre-apprenticeship program volunteers at Purdy Womens Correctional Facility in Gig Harbor and Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock.

Each tiny house is about 8 x 12 in size and costs about $2,500 in materials to build. Each will have electricity, an overhead light and a heater.

Above: Dennis Urdaneta, a U.S. Army servicemember at Joint Base Lewis McChord, and his son Ayden Urdaneta, 11, straighten out a nail and helped with whatever was needed at the Plum Street Village work party on Saturday.

Yul Gamboa, a social worker with Molina Healthcare, said he has little carpentry skills but came to learn and help with the project.

“Housing rights are human rights - that’s my conviction. Society should make housing available just like insurance. It’s the same thing. If people are living in the streets, that means we’re not doing our work as a society. This is direct action,” said Gamboa.

“Where is our morality if we don’t help? We can all end up here at some point. I’ve been in really bad spots in my life. We want every human to live a life of happiness, no matter what,” he said.

According to LIHI and the Washington State Department of Commerce, there are currently more than 40,000 homeless individuals living in either shelters or out of doors in Washington State. More than 7,000 of these individuals are part of a family with children.

In 2015, LIHI started building tiny house villages as a response to the homeless crisis and as a replacement for tents. There are currently eight tiny house villages in Seattle. These eight villages support over 1,000 residents annually.

For more information about how to sign up for future work parties, sponsor a tiny house, or donate materials, email the Low Income Housing Institute at and put Plum Street Village in the subject line or contact staff at (206) 276-3552.

For previous stories about the Plum Street Village, go to Little Hollywood at and type key words in the search button.

Above: A mid-day group photo of volunteers at the Plum Street Village site on Saturday.