Salt Lake City’s novel approach to curbing the city’s issues with homelessness
You can’t create a community with just tiny homes,” says Joseph Grenny, founder of The Other Side Academy (TOSA). “You can’t create the variety of resources, opportunities and rich growth experiences that human beings need by sticking them on an island somewhere.” For Grenny, creating a community means creating the right culture, and that is what he and his organization hope to do with their newest project, The Other Side Village.
TOSA has successfully been helping individuals with criminal records and issues with substance abuse turn their lives around since 2015. With The Other Side Village, they want to help chronically homeless individuals (those who have been continuously homeless for more than a year). The Village will eventually provide 430 tiny homes to over 600 individuals facing chronic homelessness. It will be built on a 37-acre lot located at 1850 W. Indiana Ave. in Salt Lake City. But to get the Village started, TOSA is focusing on the Village’s pilot project, which they hope to have ready this summer. It will consist of 60 tiny homes on an 8-acre portion of the 37-acre lot. The parcel is being leased to the organization by the city for $1 a year. It will cost $13.8 million to get the pilot project off the ground, with funding coming from TOSA itself, as well as a $5 million grant from the city. However, TOSA hopes the Village will be self-sustaining in a few short years after being fully built.
The idea for the Village originated at City Hall as they were looking for ways to curb homelessness in the city, which saw a 7% increase from 2020 to 2022. “I was seeing that these tiny home villages were having a lot of success with [homeless] populations that we were not having success with here in Utah,” says Salt Lake City Mayor, Erin Mendenhall. Preexisting tiny home villages, like the Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, inspired Mendenhall to campaign for a similar project in Salt Lake City. She announced her plans for the Village in January of 2021. Within two years, the project had approval from the City Council, a property to build on and patronage from TOSA.
How Will the Project Work?
While the project is philanthropic and charitable in nature, Grenny emphasizes that they aren’t just giving tiny homes away. “Our belief is that the focus of The Other Side Village needs to be not on homes, but on culture,” he says. “It needs to be on creating a community that helps people look at themselves honestly, supports someone changing their life and holds them accountable to changing their life.” Part of making residents accountable is by charging low rent and giving them a role in the community, such as working at TOSA’s doughnut shop or the organization’s moving company. Residents will also be required to follow community rules that include no drug use and keeping a clean home.
To make sure these individuals are ready to live in the Village and become a healthy part of the community, they will first be initiated through something Grenny calls the “Welcome Neighborhood.” It will help individuals transition from a homeless lifestyle to a community-compatible lifestyle. “You learn how to keep your room clean, how to cooperate with others,” says Grenny. It’s in the “Welcome Neighborhood” that individuals learn to, not only be accountable for themselves, but accountable for the community as a whole. “If somebody is stealing something from the community that isn’t theirs,” explains Grenny, “you’ll learn over time that you’re responsible to notice that and to bring that to the person’s attention or to somebody else’s attention.”
Proof of Concept
For anyone looking at the project with concern about the effect the Village could have on surrounding communities, Grenny understands where they are coming from. “I think we’ve seen in Utah many promises made about similar projects—how they won’t have negative effects on a community,” says Grenny. “But then they do.” However, he wants people to see the Village as bringing assets, not problems. Not only will the Village bring TOSA’s thriving businesses to the area, but it also hopes to hold cultural events, such as music festivals and markets. “People will come and learn to recognize the Village isn’t some cast-off place for the people we don’t want to think about,” he says. “It’s a cool spot.”
The pilot project may be a small start for The Other Side Village, but TOSA hopes it will translate to bigger ambitions. “Our hope is to prove a model,” says Grenny. “The goal is to try to open source [the model] to any city in the world that wants to do something similar. We can teach, we can train, we can share and we’ll promote the diffusion of the idea as much as we possibly can.” Pending the success of the Village, Utah could start to see similar communities being built in other parts of Utah. “I’m that excited that more organizations will be inspired to take on tiny homes as an approach,” says Mendenhall. “I think that tiny homes aren’t only for those who are living unsheltered today, but we should have tiny home villages and communities for people at all points of life.”
The Other Side Academy
- Other Side Movers: One of several training schools at The Other Side Academy that provides residential moving services to the public.
- Other Side Thrift Boutique: A high-end, second-hand store that offers gently used furniture, brand-name clothing, housewares, and much more.
- Other Side Builders: A General Contractor specializing in residential interior remodels.
All proceeds go directly to the Other Side home, to feed and clothe residents who are rebuilding their lives at The Other Side Academy.
For more info, visit: theothersideacademy.com
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