KU’s Studio 804 and Lawrence Community Shelter to debut tiny home village for families experiencing homelessness

photo by: Ashley Golledge

University of Kansas Studio 804 architecture students built the tiny homes village at the Lawrence Community Shelter as part of their Studio 804 coursework. A unit at the tiny homes village is pictured on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

The Lawrence Community Shelter is preparing to open a tiny home village that shelter leaders say will provide a better environment for families experiencing homelessness.

The shelter’s current area for housing families consists of a large room partitioned into smaller living spaces that offer limited privacy, and families must share bathrooms and living areas. Meghan Bahn, the shelter’s director of community engagement, said that being in a shared space could add stress to an already stressful situation, and could be especially disruptive for families.

“Privacy is something that most shelters make people give up, and it’s actually very challenging for people,” Bahn said. “It’s one of the hardest parts, I think, about living at a homeless shelter. And moving into the future, we would really like to address that.”

Meghan Bahn

photo by: Ashley Golledge

The Lawrence Community Shelter’s Director of Community Engagement, Meghan Bahn, is pictured in front of the Studio 804 tiny homes village on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

The shelter has partnered with the long-running University of Kansas architecture program Studio 804 on the tiny homes project, Monarch Village. Over the past academic year, Studio 804 has used shipping containers to construct 12 tiny homes on the grounds of the shelter, 3655 E. 25th St. The homes are 160 square feet and include a shower, toilet and kitchenette, as well as bunk and trundle beds, for a maximum of four occupants. An accessible unit provides room for two occupants. The tiny homes are placed in pairs with a shared patio.

Monarch Village is holding an open house for the public on Saturday, and next week it will begin working to identify families to move into the homes.

Tiny homes village

photo by: Ashley Golledge

University of Kansas architecture students built the tiny homes village at the Lawrence Community Shelter as part of their Studio 804 coursework. A unit at the tiny homes village is pictured on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

A different kind of project

Monarch Village is a change from past Studio 804 projects, which typically involve energy-efficient single-family homes that are sold on the open market.

Dan Rockhill, a KU distinguished professor who has led Studio 804 since its inception 26 years ago, said that any profits from home sales over the years have been invested back into the program. He said the Studio 804 program has built up some savings, which allowed him to donate the design services, materials and labor to construct the homes.

Rockhill said the idea for the project came out of a desire to provide a better environment for people experiencing homelessness.

“The whole idea of rejecting congregate housing and going to something that’s individual, where you have your own little tiny home was very appealing,” Rockhill said.

The tiny homes are situated around the shelter’s existing vegetable garden, and sidewalks and a covered picnic area have also been added. The area will also have a butterfly garden, or Monarch Waystation, which gives the project its name. Metal trellises that run the length of each home will be planted with black-eyed Susan vine, which will provide a natural vegetative screen to shade the structures.

Ashley Golledge

photo by: Tiny homes village

The community garden at the Studio 804 tiny homes village, located at the Lawrence Community Shelter, is pictured on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

Tiny homes village community area

photo by: Ashley Golledge

A community area at the Studio 804 tiny homes village at the Lawrence Community Shelter is pictured on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

Bahn said the homes are energy-efficient and have been constructed to platinum standards under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. She said the beds were specially designed and built by the students in Studio 804 using repurposed materials.

Rockhill and Bahn said they hoped to repeat the same project next year. The shelter has filed a permit application to build another 12 tiny homes on another area of the shelter’s property. If the permit is approved, those homes would be for women and could be open next spring.

Rockhill said he hesitated to use a different concept for the Studio 804 program, because the use of shipping containers provides less opportunity for students to be creative with design. However, he said that students have seemed enthusiastic about the project and that enrollment in class for next year has increased from about 20 students to around 34.

“I think that’s a reflection on the students’ interests in the kind of humanitarian aspect of this as well,” Rockhill said. “It’s kind of good project for everybody; win-win all the way around.”

University of Kansas architecture students

photo by: Ashley Golledge

University of Kansas architecture students built the tiny homes village at the Lawrence Community Shelter. This year’s project is led by Distinguished Professor Dan Rockhill (left). Students are pictured at the tiny homes village on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. All pictured individuals were fully vaccinated.
(Front row) From left to right: Sydney Edmonds, Emily Hock, Megan Kelly and Emily Hummel.
(Back row) From left to right: Professor Dan Rockhill, Matthew Martinez, Matt Embers, Ernesto Lopez, Zac Kornis, Greg DeVeau and James Bibens.

A second tiny home village may not be the end of the collaboration. Studio 804 has also created a prototype of a mobile housing unit out of a small trailer that can be pulled by a vehicle. Bahn said mobile units could offer a better alternative to tents and could potentially be placed on a site with bathroom facilities and run by shelter staff or other professionals.

Mobile prototype of the Studio 804 tiny homes village

photo by: Ashley Golledge

A mobile prototype of the Studio 804 tiny homes village is pictured on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 in the parking lot of the Lawrence Community Shelter.

Tiny homes village prototype

photo by: Ashley Golledge

A mobile prototype of the Studio 804 tiny homes village is pictured on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 in the parking lot of the Lawrence Community Shelter.

Capacity at the shelter

Because of the close quarters in the shelter’s family area, the shelter has not been housing families at its building in eastern Lawrence during the coronavirus pandemic. Bahn said instead the shelter has been housing some families in hotels.

Neither Monarch Village nor the newly proposed tiny home village will increase the maximum capacity allowed under city code at the shelter’s property. With both permit applications, the shelter did not request to increase the total capacity allowed on the site, which is 125 people most of the time and 140 people during cold weather. However, the shelter has not been operating at those levels for close to two years.

After initially reducing the number of guests it allowed on the site to 65 people due to budget issues in the summer of 2019, which caused the number of people sleeping outside to increase, shelter leaders have said the shelter’s main site has remained at lower levels during the coronavirus pandemic so guests could socially distance.

Bahn said the shelter has been housing between 40 and 45 guests in the building during the pandemic, with additional people being housed in hotels. She said when Monarch Village opens, the shelter plans to increase the number of guests it allows by up to 46 additional people. She said the shelter also intends to increase the number of people inside the main building to 60 in the near future as more of the community becomes fully vaccinated, meaning the shelter could allow up to 106 people on the site overall.

Regarding the fact that the tiny home villages will not increase the official capacity of the shelter, Bahn said that it was more about providing a better option for guests and safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re not asking to increase our occupancy over the (125) that the city originally gave us,” Bahn said. “What we’re really asking for is to be able to more safely shelter people while they’re having a housing crisis, as they transition into a permanent housing situation.”

Bahn said families would generally be allowed to stay in the tiny homes for 90 days, as the focus of the shelter’s new housing first approach is to get those experiencing homelessness into housing and support services as quickly as possible. She said if a family was actively working on getting housing and delays were due to paperwork, the stay could be extended to 180 days.

Bahn said the idea was for the families to get the support they need so that they can move on, like the butterflies that stop by the Monarch Waystation.

“We felt like this is an amazing metaphor, because the butterflies are on a journey,” Bahn said. “They just stop in, they recharge and then they move on, and that’s what an emergency shelter is.”

Tiny homes village

photo by: Ashley Golledge

The area of the butterfly garden at Studio 804 tiny homes village at the Lawrence Community Shelter is pictured on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

In addition to Studio 804, Bahn said that the Douglas County Community Foundation, The Mabee Foundation and the Ethel and Raymond Rice Foundation provided significant grants to support the Monarch Village project. She said dozens of families, businesses and organization also provided monetary and other donations, including landscaping, plants for the vegetable garden and art for the homes.

The Lawrence Community Shelter will hold a ribbon cutting and open house for Monarch Village on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. Monarch Village is located behind the shelter’s main building at 3655 E. 25th St.

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