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Are tiny homes the answer for homeless veterans?

Elk Grove school building tiny homes for homeless veterans

Laguna Creek High School students are building tiny homes for homeless veterans.
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Laguna Creek High School students are building tiny homes for homeless veterans.

With a wide grin, endless charm and a rags-to-respectability story Shawn Barnhart, a formerly homeless veteran, was the star of an event Tuesday displaying the tiny homes build by Elk Grove high school students.

But off to the side – occasionally in the camera’s glare – were the other stars of the program that builds housing for homeless vets: students builders Steven Gordon, Sinjin Yang, and Emran Tokhi.

“It’s great to have that feeling of accomplishment,” Yang said, at seeing people check out their handiwork.

The students attend Laguna Creek High School, one of eight area schools with students building tiny homes for homeless veterans. Tuesday’s roll out contained the first homes completed by students enrolled in the Manufacturing Production Technology and Green Energy Technology program.

Once a home is compete, the non-profit behind the project, Kavanah, seeks to find a church or a non-profit willing to take on the 84-square-foot unit and a homeless vet. The units do not have water and need to be housed at a location with a bathroom.

“We don’t do enough for our veterans and there is no housing,” said Jim Quaschnick, president of Kavanah. “This is just a small little drop in the bucket but it’s getting the community involved in a way that will make a difference.”

The project began with a simple idea to teach trades to kids as they build housing for the homeless. The effort moved into high gear after it was discovered that a class at Luther Burbank High School was already building storage sheds.

The finished tiny homes resemble a sheds. The interior features a bed, drawers for storage, a table and a window. Solar panels provide the power for the unit. There’s room for a hot plate. It’s not luxury accommodations, but its a home off the streets and river banks, said Quaschnick.

“I never thought I have my own business,” said Barnhart, who is a contractor. Barnhart said he’s also gone from having an EBT (welfare) card to having a Visa and a Mastercard. Barnhart was referred to Kavanah after racking up 5,000 hours volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. And as it turned out Barnhart, who served in the Navy, had also been volunteering at an area church while living in a tent near Arcade Creek.

During the nine months he spent in his tiny home, Barnhart was able to reinstate his Navy benefits, for which one must have an address. He also cleared up past legal issues and paid his debts. He now has his own vehicle and is living in another (non-tiny) Kavanah home. He said he’s happy to be no longer sleeping with one eye open.

The students are an essential part of the equation, said Michael Estes, a Kavanah board member.

“The goal is to create real live skills,” Estes said. Because of the need for young trades people, they had no problem finding contracting companies willing to get involved. They also have a backlog of schools willing to participate,” Estes said.

Quaschnick said if the city wanted to build a tent or tiny home community, he’d be happy to offer five units. The organization, however, is mostly focused on finding individual churches or non-profits willing to help put one person on the path to reintegration into the community.

“My focus is more on one tiny house at one location,” Quaschnick said. “I know its only one house, but the ripple effect …”

Students from regional high schools and youth programs compete in the 31st annual Design Build Competition, where they build tiny structures from scratch in the parking lot of Cosumnes River College today and tomorrow.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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