The micro village concept: A radical housing solution for homeless people
by Sara O'Shea - PhD Student, Morgan Academy
From rough sleepers who battle the elements on the streets of our towns and cities, to sofa surfers who don’t know where they will lay their head from one night to the next; from children who call shanty towns and slums their home, to asylum seekers who have swapped war and oppression for shacks and tents in overcrowded refugee camps. All over the world people face the desperation of inadequate housing and homelessness, with nowhere decent to call home and no way to meet their basic human needs. However, a cheap and environmentally sustainable solution could be in sight; a solution called the micro village concept.
Rooted in the tiny-house movement, a micro village is a community where people live in small houses, often for environmental, financial or lifestyle reasons. However, in recent years, the concept has expanded, and micro villages are now being used to give vulnerable people a place to call home. This is especially true in the USA, where a number of cities are embracing micro village developments in a bid to solve the country’s homelessness epidemic. However, this approach to homelessness intervention is not without criticism. There are concerns that it paves the way for shanty towns and puts people in boxes instead of tackling the wider issues relating to homelessness. In response, those in favour of a micro village solution argue that it does something instead of nothing, offers homes to those who have nowhere, community to those who want to belong, support to those who need it and safety to those who experience the dangers of rough sleeping. This is echoed by some of the residents living in these villages. They speak of their happiness and relief at having a home, whilst one resident firmly points out that criticisms of micro village communities usually come from those at the top of society who have no real idea of what it is like to be homeless.
Such positive reactions from residents may well be a driving force behind the rapid expansion of the micro village concept. Not only has it swept through the USA, but the UK is now witnessing the start of its very own micro village boom. In Edinburgh, Scotland, the Social Bite Village recently opened its doors to twenty homeless adults, and in Worcester, a small micro-home community has been given the green light. However, it is in Carmarthenshire, South Wales that homelessness charity The Wallich intend to take the concept one step further. They plan to develop the first micro village type community for young adults with complex needs and will integrate holistic support, therapeutic approaches, coproduction, skill development, training and employment opportunities into this new and innovative supported housing model.
As the micro village solution for homelessness gathers pace, its long-term effectiveness remains to be seen. However, in light of alarming ten-year homelessness projections, such as an estimated 76% rise in British rough sleepers, or an unprecedented global climate change refugee crisis, perhaps waiting to measure such efficacy is a luxury we can ill afford. Ultimately, as the global homelessness crisis deepens, radical new ways of addressing people’s housing needs must be embraced; something the micro village concept undoubtedly does.