Conversation with Andrew Lunetta, Executive Director of A Tiny Home for Good, Inc.
A Tiny Home for Good, Inc. provides affordable, safe, and dignified homes for those who face constant homelessness in Syracuse, New York. Founded by Andrew Lunetta, A Tiny Home for Good builds single-occupancy 300 square foot homes equipped with all the amenities of a regular-sized home – kitchen, living space, bathroom, bedroom. Rents are dependent on a resident’s income. The first residents to call a Tiny Home their home moved in a year ago. Four homes are scheduled to be resident-ready this summer. By 2020 A Tiny Home hopes to have 45 homes completed.
What Does “Home” Mean?
For those who face chronic homelessness it can mean the key to building a productive life. It is a permanent address for a supportive case worker, or employer, or family and friends to find you; a place where you can accomplish something important; a safe place with a lock to keep your home undisturbed and your possessions right there when you return; and it’s a quiet space to lock out the craziness of the world. According to Andrew Lunetta, home is a foundation of stability that serves to break the cycle of chronic homelessness.
“When I volunteered at a homeless shelter for several years during college and grad school, I kept seeing guys move out of the shelter for a time then come back. The places they went to were a mess and not clean or safe, and their stuff wouldn’t be there when they returned at the end of a day of looking for work,” explained Andrew. “The shelters are better but the residents have to leave by 7 am every day and not return until evening. Where to go to meet people or get online to find work and the next apartment? Libraries help, but every day?”
That safe, secure, stable place to call one’s own Andrew understood was necessary to break the cycle and begin to structure a life of progress. He knew because he asked his friends at the shelter, what do they need in a place to live? They told him: a small space, a bathroom, a bedroom…a place to be proud of.
A Problem Worthy to be Solved
When Andrew finished his grad program, the prospect of applying to jobs was unappealing. There was nothing that got him excited. But he knew from his relationships at the shelter that there was a problem in Syracuse that needed solving. And that energized him.
“I knew what I wanted to do – because there simply wasn’t an organization in Syracuse that provided what I had learned from my relationships that these guys in the shelter needed,” Andrew recalled. “There are good support groups, but an individual, stable home base is what is needed.”
Initially, Andrew approached the city to ask for donations of land and abandoned property for the purpose of converting to use for the homeless. The city was willing but the neighbors were not enthusiastic. They had a perception and fear of “homeless people” that might mean panhandling or drug use or even worse. This perception needed to change too. “I knew then that our work to build homes must also include changing the perception of homelessness in the neighborhood.”
Rather than depend on donations of land or property from the city, A Tiny Home purchased property and accepted donations from local citizens. Then they worked through the permitting and construction process to build the first homes. There was a lot of red tape in permitting, plus neighborhood meetings, then construction, then settling the residents in their new homes.
Spirit of Determination and Care Breaks the Cycle
“My mental fortitude is what has made the difference,“ explained Andrew. “I got to know these guys in my six years working at the shelter – and I could imagine that unless there was a change, their homelessness would be a constant cycle. This is what kept me motivated to do something. I cared for these guys, they were my friends.”
After each ribbon cutting, there is satisfaction that a new resident has a permanent home. “But I walk back to the full shelter or pass a guy living under a bridge and I am reminded that there is more to do. When I look at the big picture, ending homelessness seems audacious, but to see what I had on paper actually come to fruition keeps me going.”
Andrew regularly visits the shelter and shares meals so that he maintains relationships with those he is wanting to help. “I don’t have a specific ‘reflection time’ in the day, but every time I come and connect with the guys I feel a kind of affirmation. I am so thankful I get to do exactly what I want to do to help – whatever I can do to provide homes for people who want to have homes!”
Gratitude for Tiny Homes and Good Neighbors
A few days ago was the one year anniversary of the first residents to move in to a Tiny Home. This is a huge accomplishment and important milestone, as Andrew explained: “Not one of our guys can remember the last time they lived in one place for a whole year! It’s pretty cool. This makes a difference with the guys and it is really gratifying.”
Residents jump at the opportunity to maintain their homes, with the sidewalks shoveled in the winter, lawns mowed in the summer, and yards always clean. “They are proud of their homes,” said Andrew. “This makes me feel good.” And it helps the neighborhood feel good about their new neighbors too, changing the perception about homeless people, one tiny home at a time.
Some tips from Andrew about helping build homes for homeless in your town:
Have a good relationship with a shelter or an organization that works with homeless people. Ask the people you want to help what they need – make the personal connections. Have a local architect or construction manager on board with you, the experience will help save time and develop homes faster.
To get specifics, contact Andrew directly: firstname.lastname@example.org