Community in Crisis

Tiny home village helping homeless veterans in Santa Rosa

SANTA ROSA (KRON) — After being homeless for several years, Jeff Lawrence now has a permanent, albeit tiny, home to call his own.

Measuring only 250 square feet, it’s a small space for the tall navy vet but as someone who came here with only the clothes on his back, Lawrence says it suits him just fine.

“I absolutely love it,” he said. 

His home is part of what’s called Veteran’s Village, which is made up of 14 tiny homes located on county-owned land in Santa Rosa.

Each took $190,000 apiece to build by a construction company owned by an Iraq War vet.

All of the residents have vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and veteran’s administration supportive housing, so they pay no more than a third of their income on rent.  

Lawrence is now a peer support specialist after getting help with his PTSD and meth addiction, which is how he ended up homeless after a divorce.  

“This is more than I need right now,” he said. “I’ve lived in a lot smaller, I mean I’ve lived in a shack on the side of a hill on the river. Corrugated roofing materials is what I used put a fireplace in so I could cook off that every night. I relied on the food bank and pantries and the dumpsters to feed me. So yeah, my life was pretty bad 16 months ago. To have this is just a blessing.”

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane says it took a lot of political will to get this village built. 

But helping house homeless vets is a cause close to her heart.

Her father was a marine who fought in World War II.

“I have my fathers metals in my office,” she said.

She says the U.S. should be obligated to give veterans support.

 “It Just smacks of so much injustice — people give up their lives and are willing to risk their lives when they go into military service, so they need that support and our nation is obligated to give them that support,” she said. 

Supervisor Zane says in pricey California, affordable units can cost upwards of $400,000 apiece to build, but at the veteran’s village, they were able to keep costs down in part, because they were built on county-owned land. 

Each unit took $190,000 to build by a construction company owned by an Iraq War veteran. 

As result, she says they are getting a lot of calls from other counties in replicating the city’s model. 

“I think people are very interested and providing innovative models to veterans,” she said.  “But the tiny homes model has really capture the imagination of America, that we’re realizing —  we don’t need these massive structures and all these square feet to be happy.” 

Another upside to building on county land, there was less push back on the project. 

The village is flanked by the county jail and Kaiser Hospital, but there is some residential housing nearby. 

KRON4’S Maureen Kelly spoke to one woman living at the village who shares her home with her husband, a Vietnam War veteran.

She says the tiny house is just right for the two of them and a lot better than living on the street.

The village of tiny homes making a big difference in the lives of the veterans now off the streets.

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