Efforts underway to create tiny home community for Sitka homeless population

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 7:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In the city of Sitka, there are about 8,600 people according to the latest census. Of those people, the Sitka Homeless Coalition said somewhere between 15 and 25 people are chronically experiencing homelessness and “have been living outside for a long time,” according to Co-Founder Gayle Young.

Young said most of those people who haven’t had a home for years are men who were raised in Sitka and are now in their 50s and 60s. She said they will often take the ferry out of town in the winter because services are limited in town.

For the last four years or so, Young said the coalition has been trying to bring a plan to put a roof over those people’s head to life.

Coalition members want to build a small community of tiny homes to serve as a model to eventually get those people off the streets permanently, while also serving as transitional housing for people who need a place to stay for shorter periods of time.

Young said there aren’t many services for those experiencing homelessness in Sitka aside from a women’s shelter and a laundry and shower service in town. She said many people before her have tried to come up with a solution to help the people without a home in town.

“The last 20, maybe 15 years, there’s been four or five groups that have worked on doing this project,” she said.

The coalition has worked with technical assistance from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to develop a plan that is subject to change, according to Young.

Right now, they are in phase two of the five-part plan created by the Sitka Homeless Coalition and consulting firm Agnew Beck. The current phase is concept development. That means the coalition needs to develop market analysis and feasibility, identify partners and do concept designs, and come up with a business and financing plan, according to the latest documents from the coalition.

A layout from the current plan for the Sitka Tiny Home community from the Sitka Homeless...
A layout from the current plan for the Sitka Tiny Home community from the Sitka Homeless Coalition and Agnew Beck.(Taylor Clark)

Young said at the current stage, the best idea they have for the tiny home community is putting it on an a triangular two-acre plot of land just north of town. It would be separate from the rest of town, while still being a short walk into Sitka.

She said the coalition is seeking to put at least 12 tiny homes with power on the lot with one building hooked up to other utilities for laundry and showers. She said coalition members are hoping to bring a community atmosphere by adding a communal area like a fire pit.

The price tag for the current plan is about $1.1 million between the land, labor and other costs.

Longtime Sitka Homeless Coalition volunteer Hannah Green said it would be much less expensive and would house more people than building a single building for the people who would use it.

“For an average three-bedroom house, it’s over $400,000,” Green said. “So if we kind of have a 12-bedroom, one-bathroom house, the cost of that would be astronomical.”

While it has been a few years trying to make it happen, Young said the coalition is going to keep figuring it out until they have a way to address the problem and help those few people have a better life. They’re going to need help to pull it off, though.

“That’s kind of where we’re at,” Young said. “Sounding out the community interest, showing people what the plan could look like, or something similar, and talking to different agencies about whether they see themselves as being able to take a small piece of this project on in conjunction with others.”

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