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Tulalip Students Build Tiny Houses to Protect Seattle’s Homeless

Students at the Tulalip Tribes’ Construction Training Center built two tiny homes to be donated to the Nickelsville Homeless Encampment in Seattle.
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Homelessness affects Native people in cities all over the country. Often downward spirals caused by various factors lead to a life on the streets. Even families with small children and handicapped people fall prey. But Native students on the Tulalip Reservation north of Seattle have found one effective way to help the homeless: give them tiny houses.

Students at the Tulalip Tribes’ Construction Training Center were honored on June 15 for building two tiny houses to be donated to the Nickelsville Homeless Encampment in Seattle’s Central District, reported HeraldNet and King 5 News. Thirteen students participated in the construction of the houses, which measure 8-feet by 12-feet and are wired for electricity and heat.

The idea evolved from the desire of Sharon Lee, Low Income Housing Institute executive director, to create a village of tiny homes to replace the tents in Nickelsville, which is named after former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

“Nickelsville provides shelter to many homeless families with children, in addition to couples and singles,” Lee told ICTMN. “The rain and cold make it difficult to live in a tent.”

Lee said LIHI Board President Melinda Nichols volunteered to form a Tiny Homes Sub-Committee. “Melinda has good connections with the Tulalip Tribe’s TERO program [Tribal Employment Rights Office] so she asked if the students would be willing to build two houses. They said yes, so LIHI bought the lumber and supplies, which cost $1,800 per house.”

The Tulalip Construction Training Center students engage in various vocational programs learning skills such as wiring, plumbing and carpentry as well as first aid and safety procedures. At the end of the school year they normally take on a final project, which this year was the two tiny houses.

“This program is a learning opportunity for our members and other Native Americans. It gives our people a chance to learn a trade and contribute to the building of our community. Many of the program’s graduates go on to full employment with our tribal construction department, or with one of the many construction companies in the region,” said Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon in a press release. “We’re very proud of these students and we could not be happier with their work on the tiny homes.”

Image courtesy Steve Rowland

Melinda Nichols, Board President of Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute, and her husband Clifford, are seen here presenting a hand-carved horse rattle to Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon at the recent Tulalip Construction Training Center graduation ceremony. Clifford, who is also Native, carved the rattle as a token of appreciation for the assistance the Tulalip Tribe gave to Seattle’s homeless.

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“I feel like it could turn someone around,” student Philip Falcon, Coeur D’Alene, told King 5 News when asked about the affect having a roof over their head could have on a homeless person.

At the graduation ceremonies on June 15, held at the Tulalip Reservation’s Hibulb Cultural Center, Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon Jr. spoke of his frustration at being unable to provide adequate help for homeless Native people in the city. He predicted, however, the students will go on to do great things for themselves.

“But moreover, you have the opportunity to be able to do something for our community, for other people,” Sheldon said, according to HeraldNet.

Also present was a resident of Nickelsville, an Ojibwa tribal member named John Hord, who has been living in Nickelsville after spending five weeks homeless on the street.

“What you graduates have done today is a true blessing. Way into the future, hopefully 15 to 20 years from now, those structures are still going to be changing people’s lives.”

Plans are to provide an additional 13 tiny houses built by various other volunteer organizations and create a mini village with separate kitchen and toilet facilities. The two by the Tulalip students will be distinct, however, because of the Native designs on their doors created by Tulalip artists James Madison and Ty Juvenil. One depicts the trickster Raven stealing light and thus creating the sun, while the other depicts a stylized eagle’s wing.

Image courtesy Steve Rowland

Students of the Tulalip Tribe’s Construction Training Center posing after their graduation ceremony. The Native designed doors will be used on the tiny houses they built for the homeless. The left door depicts Raven stealing the sun designed by Tulalip artist Ty Juvenil. The right is a stylized eagle wing designed by Tulalip artist James Madison.

“For the homeless people,” Madison explained, “these houses are a blessing and the eagle is protecting those inside.”