St. Leo parishioner creates ‘tiny homes’ for the homeless

  • Written by Kim Haub
  • Published in Local
The Tiny Home Project’s latest portable shelter is displayed by designer and group founder Peter Roderick; volunteer Kate Maguire, right; and Theresa Privett, a transitional housing guest at Guadalupe House in Tacoma. Photo: Kim Haub  The Tiny Home Project’s latest portable shelter is displayed by designer and group founder Peter Roderick; volunteer Kate Maguire, right; and Theresa Privett, a transitional housing guest at Guadalupe House in Tacoma. Photo: Kim Haub

TACOMA – Sleeping pod, module, spaceship or sleep box — all are names for Peter Roderick’s invention to make life more comfortable for homeless people.

The “tiny home” idea began during the winter of 2014, “a particularly cold one,” said Roderick, a retired architect and member of St. Leo Parish in Tacoma.

He often takes food to those living on Tacoma Avenue, near the Tacoma Catholic Worker Guadalupe House of Hospitality, where he has volunteered to help the homeless for 13 years. That winter, seeing homeless men on the streets with only T-shirts to ward off the chill, Roderick bought and handed out some Mylar emergency blankets. But he knew he wanted to do more.

“I asked God for an answer to help,” Roderick said. Then he saw a YouTube video about a middle-class movement to downsize to small, simple homes.

“From that idea, I thought perhaps we could build very tiny homes for homeless people,” he said.

To start the Tiny Home Project, Roderick gathered six friends for a meeting. He jokingly told them he had $1 in the budget. One of his friends started things off by pledging $300, and the team was able to build the first tiny home.

Retired architect Peter Roderick demonstrates the portability of a tiny home (still under construction) that he designed to give the homeless a weatherproof place to sleep. Photo: Kim Haub

A cross between a rickshaw and a camper trailer, each portable home is 7 feet long by 3.5 feet wide, lightweight, weatherproof and free to recipients. A survival blanket, a mat and an off-grid heating system are included. Since recycled materials are used, no two homes are alike.

The first home, built in May 2014, was given to Bruce, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. It cost more than $300, but “we got smarter, and the new models cost $175 each,” Roderick said.

Relying completely on volunteers and donations, Roderick and his team are working on their 15th home. Since Bruce was able to get housing, through U.S. Veterans Affairs in Tacoma, that first tiny home will be refurbished and given to another homeless person, Roderick said.

Kate Maguire, a volunteer who lives among the poor at Guadalupe House, posted information about the mini-homes online. “It went viral,” she said. “From that we received nearly $700 in donations.” Encouraged by the response, Maguire and a friend set up a donation website and a Facebook page (which reported that a May fundraiser brought in close to $800).

Now the team gets calls from people around the country interested in learning to build their own tiny homes. “We want people to copy our idea,” Roderick said. “When it rains and it’s cold and people get pneumonia, $175 can keep them dry.”

It’s a small but important way to help the homeless, who constantly are asked to move, Roderick said. “They are faced with people who are against them all the time,” he said. “We want them to know someone is for them.”

What is Guadalupe House?

Guadalupe House of Hospitality is an outreach of the Tacoma Catholic Worker community. It offers transitional housing for single adults (who live alongside volunteers), as well as a place where people in need can take a shower, use the phone and pick up mail.

The house also hosts a dinner and prayer service for more than 40 people each Tuesday.

“This is my family,” said Theresa Privett, who has been living at Guadalupe House for two years. “There is a sense of peace, because people here treat you with respect.”

Tacoma Catholic Worker, which has eight guest houses on G Street in Tacoma, is part of the Catholic Worker Movement founded in 1933 by atheist-turned-Catholic Dorothy Day.

Learn about donations needed at Guadalupe House by calling 253-572-4247 or sending a message on its Facebook page.