Eighth-graders from St. Alban Roe School in Wildwood recently got a tour of some of the city’s newest dwellings — two tiny houses in north St. Louis that next year will house people who are without a home.
The students’ objective was to see firsthand the fruits of a two-year, multi-faceted effort to provide housing for people transitioning from homelessness. Now, they will return to school and rally their fellow students to raise $4,000 toward a $40,000 goal needed to build a third tiny house in 2020.
Students got a closer inspection of each house, which includes a kitchen, open living and sleeping area, and a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower. They were impressed with how much room was inside each 14-by-26 foot house, despite its “tiny” label. But when they learned how many people were involved in the project, they were even more impressed.
“It’s so special that people from so many different places were involved in this,” said student Alex Whitney. “It really does take a village to make something for people who need help.”
St. Alban Roe principal Tara Smith said that bringing students to see the houses was important to “catch their hearts on fire” for the project. “Coming here and seeing the community makes it so real for them,” she said. “It makes it easy to go back and tell their families about this.”
The Tiny Houses Project will place three tiny houses on a lot in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of north St. Louis, directly behind Sts. Teresa and Bridget Church. The project is the effort of several groups, including North Grand Neighborhood Services, Rockwood School District and Social Justice 4 All. The project has received help from the Catholic community, including St. Clare of Assisi School in Ellisville and now St. Alban Roe in Wildwood, along with Greg Vatterott Sr., president of Charles F. Vatterott Construction Co.
Organizers have said the joint effort addresses, in a small way, needs of homeless people in the St. Louis area.
The project started with Social Justice 4 All, a group of Catholics and other Christians from west St. Louis County who were invested in raising awareness of social issues and improving lives for others in St. Louis. The group learned about North Grand Neighborhood Services’ efforts to provide affordable housing through the Solomon Project, a 14-year-old initiative creating affordable housing in north St. Louis.
Through a connection with Social Justice 4 All, students in the Geometry in Construction classes at Rockwood Summit and Eureka High Schools built the first two tiny houses — each measuring 14 by 26 feet; one painted blue, the other green — with a third house to be built on site. St. Clare of Assisi and St. Alban Roe are involved in the efforts to raise funds for the third house, and hope to bring other Catholic schools and Parish Schools of Religion on board.
North Grand, which owns the property, will manage the rental of the units. The organization has been in conversation with Assisi Houses, a project of St. Louis Winter Outreach, to determine candidates for housing. The homes are meant to serve as a temporary stop in finding more permanent housing. North Grand also will work to connect tenants with needed social services.
Donna Torrillo, executive director of North Grand Neighborhood Services, said a committee is being formed to help identify the first residents, with an anticipated occupancy by the first of February. Torrillo said that the tiny houses fit right in with the organization’s mission. Since the start of the Solomon Project, the organization has built or rehabbed 21 homes, with six more lots for development. Started by former Sts. Teresa and Bridget pastor Father Gary Meier, the Solomon Project has addressed the needs of improving housing opportunities in the neighborhood. Torillo noted that the organization continues to receive support from the parish and current pastor Father Tim Cook.
Beyond housing, Torrillo said North Grand is committed to being in the neighborhood, to help make it a better place for everybody. “The people in the neighborhood are fantastic,” she said. “Our renters and neighbors, we absolutely love them. The people in the neighborhood want what everyone wants — a decent place to live, a place safe for their kids to go out and play. In the country we live in, there should not be homeless people. We are one of the richest countries, and yet we have people living on the street or living in properties that are inadequate. Everybody deserves decent housing.”
North Grand Neighborhood Services
Founded in 2005, North
Grand Neighborhood Services develops affordable housing, employment and
training opportunities for youth, as well as other community
initiatives. Based in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of north St.
Louis, the independent nonprofit organization was founded by former Sts.
Teresa and Bridget pastor Father Gary Meier, and continues to receive
the support of the parish.
Its flagship program, Solomon Project,
focuses on building and rehabbing homes in the neighborhood, which are
rented with the ultimate goal of achieving home ownership. Since 2005,
Solomon Project has completed 21 residential developments. Volunteers
and donations are needed to continue the work. For more information,
contact executive director Donna Torrillo at (314) 614-1711 or visit www.ngns.org.
learn more about the Tiny Houses Project or to donate, contact Dianne
Marshak with Social Justice 4 All at (314) 302-0595 or email
[email protected]. A GoFundMe page has been set up at www.gofundme.com/f/tinyhouses-stl.