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A Nevada City architect wants to set up tiny villages for SLO County's homeless

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In the weeks leading up to March 19, San Luis Obispo County's community activist circles were abuzz about co-housing proponent Charles Durrett's arrival.

Groaning under the weight of ballooning homelessness, the county appeared ready to hear Durrett's take on how tiny villages can lessen the load for the unsheltered and for the people working to get them housed.

"Did you know that the average homeless person in our country dies at 49 years old? That's a 30-year-death sentence," Durrett told New Times.

ACT NOW Nevada City architect Charles Durrett announced to an audience of SLO County residents and officials that the "era of excuses is over" when it comes to addressing the problem of homelessness. - PHOTO BY BULBUL RAJAGOPAL
  • Photo By Bulbul Rajagopal
  • ACT NOW Nevada City architect Charles Durrett announced to an audience of SLO County residents and officials that the "era of excuses is over" when it comes to addressing the problem of homelessness.

It's a statement he echoed to a crowd of more than 50 at SLO's Mountainbrook Church on March 19. Durrett is an architect who has built more than 50 co-housing communities across the United States with the help of his firm The Cohousing Company.

Hope's Village facilitated the workshop, A Solution to Homelessness in Your Town, during which he presented information on tiny villages, and highlighted his architectural firm's 2019 completion of a 70-unit tiny-cottage development for some formerly homeless people in Napa County. Durrett went on to promote his book of the same name, calling it a resource for learning how to establish housing for the unsheltered.

While the audience included county residents, the event also pulled in officials like District Attorney Dan Dow, 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg, Grover Beach Mayor Jeff Lee, Arroyo Grande Councilmember Jimmy Paulding, and Kelsey Nocket, SLO's homelessness response manager.

"As far as I'm concerned, the era of excuses is over," Durrett told attendees. "It's funny: 'We don't have land, we don't have money.' We do, we just misallocate things."

He went on to talk about a tiny-village community in Eugene, Oregon, that was constructed by homeless people, who went on to live there, along with 150 other volunteers. Teamwork was the key, he said.

Spectators signed up to be part of Hope's Village's push for tiny homes in SLO County by leaving their contact information at the entrance of Durrett's workshop.

"I'm so amazed by what extent a lot of people want to be part of the solution, like all of you here," Durrett told the crowd.

Currently living in a Nevada City co-housing community of his own, Cal Poly alumnus Durrett arrived in SLO County a day prior to the workshop. Almost immediately, he teamed up with Hope's Village Founder Becky Jorgeson to visit different spaces and homeless encampments in the county and assess potential land for a tiny village.

"I was just visiting a homeless project on Oklahoma Avenue, and it makes me very upset to see so much humanity on the table," Durrett told New Times. "There are all these people out there, all just languishing. They could be making that place into a viable society where people cooperate, know each other, and support each other."

After the presentation, Jorgeson informed the audience that Durrett found some county-owned sites that could work for tiny villages, but she withheld details about their locations. She said that Hope's Village plans to make offers to county officials, inciting applause.

According to Durrett, tiny villages are stepping-stones to encourage the human mind to do positive things. The goal of his presentation, he said, was to start understanding how to marry commercial viability and social justice in relation to homelessness.

"We set them [homeless people] up for failure, and consequently they play a role in our society's failure," he told New Times. "The failure of having to walk by homeless people and having to explain that to your children or grandchildren—it sinks your heart."

Fast fact

Si Tenenberg, the local veteran who helped ship care packages to deployed U.S. military members, passed away in February. His organization, Helping Soldiers in the Desert, will be hosting a celebration of life event at the SLO Vets Hall on April 9. For more information, contact Linda Vleit at (805) 268-3813. Δ

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at brajagopal@newtimesslo.com.

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