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Teens build tiny houses for homeless vets

As Sacramento and other cities struggle with homelessness, some area teens are trying to help by building tiny houses for homeless veterans.

The mini construction boom that began Wednesday is part of a two-day competition hosted by the Sacramento Regional Builders Exchange Education Foundation at Cosumnes River College.

More than 200 students spent Wednesday building exteriors of 96-square-foot structures with materials provided by the foundation. Four out of the 15 teams from area high schools and youth groups were building tiny houses for homeless veterans. Others built sheds.

The students started cutting boards and nailing plywood at 8 a.m.

“I am learning a lot of great construction skills through this competition, but this is also good for Sacramento,” said Mario Carranza, a junior at Linden High School, northeast of Stockton. “If we make more of these, it’s going to be really helpful for homeless people.”

The foundation’s annual Design Build Competition is meant to introduce high school students to construction careers in a fun learning environment.

“This is going to be an exciting opportunity for students to gain hands-on knowledge about the construction industry,” said Jordan Blair, the foundation’s executive director.

Three of the tiny homes will be donated to Kavanah, a nonprofit group that provides employment and housing services, including to veterans. Once students finish building the exteriors, Kavanah will use its own workers to design the interiors and have the tiny houses transported to area churches it selects.

“It is great to see how students that care about homeless people are jumping to the scene,” said Kavanah President Jim Quaschnick. “There has been a definite increase in the homeless population, and we are trying our best to get them off the riverways and streets to safe housing.”

One tiny house usually costs around $5,800. Housed veterans are expected to pay $58 a month for rent once the houses are distributed, Quaschnick said.

Kavanah has backed Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s initiative to combat homelessness but says there’s an urgent need for action and money.

“I like what (the mayor) is doing, but this just needs to happen a little faster,” Quaschnick said. “The city has been talking about this for 7 years, but we are still waiting for support.”

Steinberg announced his plan in April to allow churches and community-based organizations to temporarily house up to 20 people each in the city’s neighborhoods. He has also sought to give homeless people priority for federal housing vouchers.

“There is still this daily issue of emergency shelter, and we don’t have nearly enough of it,” Steinberg said in April.

Quaschnick said a lack of financial support is slowing down construction.

“Every year we get a new batch of homeless people, but we are lacking resources to help them,” Quaschnick said.

Walter Ko: 916-321-1436, @juntaeko

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