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Nashville, Tennessee – Wednesday afternoons are a busy time for Deacon Caleb Pickering.
He stands outside the Green Street Church in Nashville waiting for food donations for the weekly free community meal.
Behind him several steeply pitched, tiny roofs rise over a fence in the backyard of the church, a homeless tent community called The Sanctuary.
These tiny homes have brought attention to the church and its desire to play a role resolving the Music City’s growing problems with homelessness and a shortage of affordable housing.
The concept began when a small tent community was established some four years ago at the church. When, in 2015, Reverend Jeff Carr conceived the idea, crowdfunding more than $60,000 to construct and place several tiny homes at the campsite, Pickering and the other church members gladly accepted the units.
The location of the Green Street Church on a one-way road surrounded by industrial buildings and close to a city bus line proved ideal.
“From there, it was kind of an organic growth,” Pickering explains. “It’s one small step at a time, and we just keep saying yes.”
Peter Regan, who has been a resident of the camp for about a year, describes the tiny houses as a “stair step” to his own permanent residence. His affordable housing vouchers from the city have arrived after nearly a year’s wait, and he expects to move out of the tiny home he has lived in for the last six months within a matter of weeks.
“I started in a tent, then moved up to the [tiny homes],” says Regan. “Then you hopefully get into your own place. That’s the goal.”
The tiny homes are a response to an affordable housing crisis that continues to grow in the city. Public housing has a 3,000-person waiting list, and Section 8 vouchers, which provide rent assistance for eligible low-income families, have a 14,000-person long waiting list. As a booming city, Nashville is not alone in this struggle, and others like Seattle and Austin are also turning to tiny houses.
“We’re still not fixing the affordable, permanent housing solution, but it’s a pretty decent band-aid for the time being,” Pickering says. “We’re helping 20 people or less, but you just need more people doing their little group of 15 or 20 and you can make a dent.”
As the camp evolves, Pickering anticipates that all the tents will be replaced by donated tiny houses, perhaps by as early as the end of the year. He also hopes to bring electricity to the homes, which are already pre-wired.
While Pickering says he isn’t naive about the scope of the affordable housing crisis, he and the Green Street Church are happy to play their part.
“We’re glad to do what we’re doing, but at the same time we feel like we’re helping civically [and] socially the greater conversation about what this can look like if it’s successful.”