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Tiny houses are big idea for homeless, plus city students

JEFF-VANDER-LOU – Two St. Louis nonprofits are taking a big step toward curbing area homelessness, with tiny houses. For good measure, they want city school students to be a part of it.

 North Grand Neighborhood Services (NGNS) and Social Justice For All (SJ4A) have come together to bring the Tiny Houses program to north St. Louis. 

The program, which started in Denver, involves volunteers’ constructing tiny homes that can house up to two people. Volunteers include high school students enrolled in a Geometry in Construction class, which allows for real-life application of the math concepts. 

Two of the first three tiny homes were built in St. Louis County. They were then transported to the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood, near the intersection of North Market and Fall streets. 

Rockwood High School students helped to build the first two. 

One student-helper, Zach Martin, said: “I believe that the reason behind me learning so well in this class is because I get to see how it applies to the real world, whereas in other classes you don’t always know why you are learning the material; and when something seems pointless, you are not as motivated to learn.” 

Another student, Liza Brinker, said, “You don’t see high school students building a house every day. I am going to miss this class a lot.” 

Rachel Mens said, “It was interesting about how we could apply our math knowledge in real life for a good cause.” 

The third tiny house is being built completely at the site on North Market. Its foundation is in place, but construction on it won’t begin until the first two houses are complete and city students are, hopefully, on board. 

“Why can’t we get high school students in the city to replicate this program?” asked Bob Marshak, a member of Social Justice for All. 

“I would love for [St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent] Dr. [Kelvin] Adams and his staff to see what was accomplished by kids; we want to see city kids occupied this year.” 

The Geometry in Construction class and Tiny Houses have provided refuge to homeless people in Detroit; Newfield, N.Y.; Austin, Texas; Olympia, Wash.; and Madison, Wis. 

The houses have connections with MSD, city water and electricity. They were largely built with donated and discounted materials. 

“People have been wonderful, including the mayor and the city of St. Louis,” Marshak said. 

The builders still need to raise more money to complete the project. 

The Tiny Houses project has suffered some losses. More than $10,000 in materials, such as plumbing fittings, drywall and copper, have been stolen. 

The group has since installed cameras and alarms that go directly to the police department. 

“We can’t let that stop us – we have to keep going,” Marsak said. 

When the homes are completed, NGNS will own, manage and maintain the residences. 

Marshak said many people talked about doing things to help the homeless, but he said they were actually doing it. 

He believes that Phase I can spark the growth of Tiny Houses initiatives across north St. Louis, where there are hundreds of suitable vacant home sites in viable neighborhoods. 

Their next plan is to identify lots in The Ville.

Bill Beene

bill.beene@thenorthsider.com Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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