LA Officials Bring The Hammer Down On Tiny Houses For Homeless One citizen has taken the Los Angeles homeless crisis into his own hands, building dozens of small shelters and giving them to the homeless. But the city says the structures are unsafe.
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LA Officials Bring The Hammer Down On Tiny Houses For Homeless

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LA Officials Bring The Hammer Down On Tiny Houses For Homeless

LA Officials Bring The Hammer Down On Tiny Houses For Homeless

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Forty-four thousand people live on the streets here in the Los Angeles area according to the latest count. One citizen has been taking the crisis into his own hands. He's built dozens of tiny houses and given them to homeless people. And as Anna Scott from member station KCRW reports, now the city is cracking down.

KEVIN GREENE: I just got up right before you got here. My (unintelligble).

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Kevin Greene opens the door of his tiny blue house and steps inside. When I say tiny, I mean six feet wide by eight feet long. His bed takes up most of it.

GREENE: I have two windows, one on each side with blue curtains thin enough to allow the breeze to come through.

SCOTT: Greene lived on the streets of south LA for six months before he got this house around Christmas. He's proud to have a roof over his head.

GREENE: You know, I keep my keys around a, you know - a keychain, and I hang it around my neck. You know, it's a constant reminder with it around my neck that I have something that that I can call mine.

SCOTT: Greene's new home was built by a man named Elvis Summers. He's not with any nonprofit or government agency. He's just a 38-year-old guy with a mohawk and tattooed arms who started a GoFundMe campaign last spring. Now donations let him build tiny houses full-time. Summers got the idea after befriending a homeless woman in his neighborhood.

ELVIS SUMMERS: It just got to me, you know. I'm just like, you know, everybody in this neighborhood knows you. They like you. Why does nobody give a crap that you're sleeping in the dirt, literally?

SCOTT: He's given out 37 tiny houses so far. They resemble sheds painted in bright, solid colors. They have solar panels on the roofs.

SUMMERS: They're all on wheels. They're all mobile. And I provide everyone with a portable camping toilet as well because, you know, when you got to go, you got to go.

CONNIE LLANOS: Unfortunately, these structures are a safety hazard.

SCOTT: Connie Llanos is a spokeswoman for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. This month, city sanitation workers confiscated three of the houses from a sidewalk in south LA and tagged others for removal.

LLANOS: These structures, some of the materials that were found - just the thought of, you know, folks having some of these things in a space so small, so confined without the proper insulation, it really does put their lives in danger.

SCOTT: Llanos says they'd be better off taking advantage of official resources like shelters or housing vouchers. In the meantime, the city sweep put some people back on the streets. Even builder Elvis Summers knows his houses aren't a permanent solution. Each one cost about $1,200 to make. And in the past couple of weeks, he's been giving out tents instead.

SUMMERS: You need a tent?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I need one bad.

SUMMERS: I've got one in my truck for you right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right, thank you.

SUMMERS: I've been trying to find everybody, but it's just been so chaotic, you know?

SCOTT: Summers seems to know every homeless person on the block where his tiny houses stood.

SUMMERS: Willie.

SCOTT: Willie had not lost his tiny house when the city confiscated it.

WILLIE: About my house - you know, I had a piece of mind, man. I could shut the door, go lay down - quiet. And that's just what I miss a whole lot, man. I don't want to start crying (laughter).

SCOTT: Someone who understands that pain is Kevin Greene, who wears the key around his neck. His is one of the tiny houses that got tagged for removal. But before the city could take it, Elvis Summers moved it for him to the parking lot where it now stands temporarily.

GREENE: When you're homeless, your day is consumed with, you know - that you don't have a place to store your things. So you just - you walking around carrying all this stuff with you, you know? What can you get accomplished?

SCOTT: His tiny house takes away that burden for now. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles.

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