Villages for Unhoused People Are Popping Up in More Cities. What’s It Like to Live in Them?

The creators of small-scale shelters have touted them as a short-term solution for the homelessness crisis. We spoke to three residents of micro-shelter communities in Oregon to find out how they hold up.

On a single night in January 2022, 582,462 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States. Sixty percent were staying in locations like emergency shelters or in accommodations provided by transitional housing programs, and 40 percent were living on the street or somewhere similar, according to an annual U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report. (The pandemic impacted the accuracy of homelessness data collection in 2021, however, and the number of people without a home is likely far higher.) Meanwhile, across the country, many housing advocates and government officials are embracing a practical short-term solution to the homelessness crisis: the rapid construction of tiny-home villages—some with upward of 50 units, others with just 10 tiny homes, or pods. The hope is that with access to a personal, lockable shelter and some essential services (laundry and showers, as well as housing and employment assistance programs), unsheltered people will be able to find permanent, affordable housing quicker than if they were still fending for themselves on the streets.

In Oregon, one of the states at the forefront of the country’s homelessness crisis, cities like Portland and Salem have already invested in tiny-home communities. The City of Portland alone has contracted with five different tiny-house makers to develop six new Safe Rest Villages using American Rescue Plan Act funds. Tiny-home villages, which have appeared in states from Oregon, Washington, and California to Texas, Michigan, and Massachusetts, have gotten a fair amount of press for their ability to be a part of the emergency response to the crisis. We spoke to three residents of micro-shelter communities in Oregon to get a sense of what the tiny homes are actually like to live in and how the alternative-housing villages function.


Renee Dorie, 58

Menlo Park Safe Rest Village in Southeast Portland

Renee Dorie was the first person to move into this Safe Rest Village, which opened in late 2022. Operated by local nonprofit Cultivate Initiatives, it features 55 pods (49 are housing shelters; the remainder are used for staff offices, health services, case management, and more). After a 2019 fire destroyed her Portland home, Dorie was unhoused for three years, living in a trailer, then her car. Last year, while participating in Cultivate Initiatives’ paid workforce development program, she applied for a host role at the nonprofit’s new Menlo Park Safe Rest Village—and got it. Now, she works as a host at the village, cleaning the common areas and being a point person for other residents. She lives in a 150-square-foot pod with a covered front porch, made by local manufacturer Stanley Tiny Homes.

I’m very grateful for my little house. It’s comfy. I came with my boyfriend. We got two separate pods in case we ever broke up, so neither one of us would have to go back on the streets. We put our two beds together [in one of the pods], so it’s like I have a big king-size bed. It’s wonderful! And then I have my TV on top of the dresser. We use the other pod for storage.

It’s very, very warm. The heater is a Pioneer ductless split; it turns to AC in the summer. You use a remote control to turn it up or down. I always have mine too high. [Laughs.] It warms up real quick!


There’s a kitchenette, which closes at 10:00 p.m., with a fridge and microwaves and hot plates that we can sign out. Breakfast is served every day at 8:00 a.m. and dinner anywhere from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. We also have a minifridge in our houses for drinks, lunch meat for a sandwich, or something to throw together. They supply the bowls, plates, cups, and silverware. There are restrooms up there [on the opposite side of the village] with the showers. We have a couple Porta Potties at the other end. We have two washers and two dryers on-site, too.

As host, my job includes cleaning the restrooms, showers, and kitchen—just taking care of the village and getting to know all the neighbors. If there’s anything I can do to help them, whatever resources they need. If they wanna just talk. I’m a talker! I talk, talk, talk with them all the time and mingle throughout my shift. It’s pretty laid-back, really. It’s a nice job. We’re starting to get some entertainment going. We have a suggestion box where people can put in what they want to do—painting, a jewelry class. I wanna do horseback riding!


See the full story on Villages for Unhoused People Are Popping Up in More Cities. What’s It Like to Live in Them?
Related stories: