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Teens build village of tiny houses for Seattle homeless
Seattle's homelessness problem has soared as rents have gone up. But a group is partnering teens with local builders and architects to create safe, warm mini-shelters to help the homeless get back on their feet. - photo by Lane Anderson
Incomes in Seattle have steadily risen, making it one of the wealthiest places in the country, but at the same time, homelessness has been on the rise, too.

The number of people sleeping on the streets in Seattle has shot up by 20 percent just in the last year, to almost 4,000. The link between increased wealth and increased homelessness is not unrelated the booming Seattle economy is generating both wealth and poverty as rents have soared.

Seattle has a history of putting money and effort into social problems, and a decade ago the city pulled together a plan with a public-private partnership to end homelessness. Roughly $1 billion has gone to the cause, yet 10 years later, the city has more homeless than anywhere except New York City, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

The reason the effort is losing ground is that rents keep soaring, and without affordable housing, people are being priced out of their homes and into the streets.

"Seattle was the fastest-growing city in the country last year," Vince Matulionis, United Way of King County's director of ending homelessness, told NPR. "So, rich, poor and otherwise, we attract a lot of people here. A lot of people get here and find that they struggle with the cost of living and the cost of housing."

While the crisis continues, one Seattle group is fighting homelessness by creating an "eco-village" of tiny houses that would provide shelter and help homeless get back on their feet.

Nonprofit Sawhorse Revolution is behind the Impossible City project, which has teamed with engineering and architecture firms to design sleek-looking personal shelters, constructed with inexpensive materials like aluminum siding, that provide safe individual havens for Seattle homeless, as well as a solar power hub, compositing toilets, and a community cook space. The project will be largely built by local teens. The nonprofit partners with builders and high schools to teach students carpentry skills.

The project is kicking off in Nickelsville, a Seattle homeless community, where the mini-shelters provide lighting, warm water and a safe place to stay.

According to Sawhorse Revolution, mini-residences improve chances that residents can secure stable housing in the future by giving them a safe place to store their belongings and a place to stay warm and clean things that are important when they need to go to a job interview with documentation, clean clothes and a shave.

"We don't have any illusions about the Impossible City solving homelessness," Sarah Smith, the nonprofit's program director, said in a statement. "But what we can do is show our students that you can make a real difference in people's lives by reaching out, coming together with your community and helping shape something with your own hands."
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