Steve and Brandy Boyd of Ephrata decided they’d help the homeless in Seattle by building a tiny house. They hauled it 170 miles and gave it to a homeless man. But not without complications.
Things can get complicated when trying to do the right thing, like helping a homeless person.
Let’s say you’re the Brandy and Steve Boyd family of Ephrata; local high-school sweethearts, with four kids ages 10 to 17.
Last Saturday, they hauled a tiny house they had all built all the way to Seattle.
At 4-by-8 feet, it really is a tiny house. You can’t even stand up in it as the angular roof is only 5½ feet at its peak.
The Boyds’ plan was to give it to a down-and-out person in Seattle.
“At noon today my family and I will be changing a man’s life,” Brandy posted Saturday morning on a Facebook page she created about the project.
And then they drove 170 miles and gave a homeless man the house.
They found him through Richard McAdams, who leads the homeless outreach program for the Union Gospel Mission.
“I thinks it’s amazing what they did,” McAdams says about the Boyds.
Initially, the Boyds had even considered “driving around and finding someone and giving it to them.”
They wanted this to be a person-to-person gesture.
Sawhorse Revolution, one Seattle group that has built tiny homes for the homeless, turned down the Boyds’ gift as too small for a shelter.
Nickelsville said it’d take the tiny house, but the Boyds say they weren’t sure if it’d be used for storage or what.
But McAdams knew a guy who has been homeless for 10 years and lives in a tent near the Interstate 5 columns in the South End.
He is Ian Boote, 45, and he said that sure, he’d love to have the Boyds’ gift.
If you look carefully, you can spot the tiny house, painted white, on vacant land just across a railroad track along Airport Way South near South Snoqualmie Street. It’s by a fenced-off storage yard for the city. You might mistake the tiny house for an equipment shed.
Other homeless people also live here in this stretch of grass, bushes and dirt, in tents further uphill.
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But now, well, now about the complications.
After a couple of nights in the tiny house, Boote says he’s going back to his tent.
He tries to be diplomatic.
“It’s a good prototype,” he says about the tiny house. “It just needs some fine tuning.”
Like maybe a bit more headroom.
“I got a little claustrophobic,” says Boyd, although the two small windows helped some.
The Boyds were nice enough to equip the tiny house with a mattress, a sleeping bag and pillows. But it basically takes up the entire floor space. So you have to crawl in.
Boote says he’ll find some other homeless person who might want it. He’s sure there will be takers among the 50 or so people living in that hillside tract.
Now about the second complication.
As they say in real estate, it’s about location, location, location.
The tiny house was plunked down on state land.
Not surprisingly, the state is leery about encampments along the I-5 corridor.
“They’re in close proximity to traffic. We’ve had folks fall off retaining walls,” says Travis Phelps, spokesman for the state’s Department of Transportation.
Still, no government bureaucrat wants to be accused of being callous about the homeless.
Phelps says his agency has to figure out “what’s our stance” about tiny houses. He says the obvious, “This is more than a little tent.”
Already, the freeway encampments do present problems.
Like the 30 tons of garbage that the state collects each month in Seattle from homeless camps on Department of Transportation rights of way.
The city of Seattle, meanwhile, also has weighed in, saying tiny houses should be put in “legal and permitted encampment sites” such as Nickelsville.
The city of Seattle has declared “a state of emergency on homelessness,” citing One Night Count figures that more than 2,300 people sleep in cars or on the streets.
Brandy Boyd says that with tents already in that area, she doesn’t see a problem with a tiny house.
But that’s why it has wheels, in case it needs to be moved.
Boote does suggest bigger wheels as the house, tiny as it is, does weigh 500 pounds and gets stuck in the mud in this kind of weather.
The tiny-house concept has become a crusade for Brandy.
For her 40th birthday on Nov. 19, Boyd told her family about stories she had read about people in other cities building tiny houses. She wanted to do the same. That’d be her birthday gift.
She wrote on her Facebook page, “I want to challenge you and all your friends and family to build a tiny house for a homeless person. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, remember anything beats sleeping on the ground under a bridge!!”
Although never homeless herself, Brandy says, she can relate.
“I had a dysfunctional family. We were very poor. My family moved all the time, living in travel trailers,” she says. Through 8th grade, she says, “I went to something like 13, 14 schools.”
Both she and her husband are familiar with the sight of the homeless in this city.
Steve Boyd is a truck driver who makes daily roundtrips between the Columbia Basin and Seattle, usually frozen fries going from potato land to terminals.
Brandy knows Seattle because all their children were born here as premature babies.
“Driving around Seattle, you see tent after tent,” she says. “We’re not a wealthy family. But in this whole experience, we got more than we gave.”
Steve did a lot of the major work, figuring he spent $400 to $500 on everything from plywood to battery-powered “tap” lights.
The kids helped paint, and the entire family drove to Seattle to deliver the tiny house.
“We fully intend on building more houses,” says Brandy. She says they’ll make some refinements such as using lighter materials, but the basic tiny-ness will stay the same.
As for Boote, he’ll go back to his tent, which he shares with a stray cat he adopted around Halloween and so named Bü. For him, the tent just feels more open.
He doesn’t mind talking about his homelessness.
Yes, he’s got a history with the law that includes felony theft, burglary, forgery, assault, possession of a controlled substance.
Yes, he says, he’s been depressed for a long time. No, he says, he’s not on medication although “I probably should be.”
He gets $197 a month from the state and food stamps, collects scrap metal he finds and sells it, cooks on a little camp stove.
He does manage to scramble up $35 a month for a Virgin smartphone connection. He has no radio but spends many of his hours reading, mostly history books.
Boote says that, OK, maybe there were a few complications with Brandy and Steve’s little house.
But seeing even the kids bring the tiny house over to give to him?
“The thought is there,” he says. “They did something. It gives me hope. Everybody else just … ”
He uses an expletive to describe how he thinks most of us think of people like him.