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Man launches online push to build tiny houses into big help for homeless people in Los Angeles

Irene "Smokie" McGhee, a homeless woman who had been sleeping on the streets in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, center, is greeted by former neighbor Kim Brisco, right, and Monica Hughes, left, on the doorway her newly built tiny home Thursday, May 7, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
May 10, 2015 - 7:25 PM

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Shortly after Elvis Summers befriended Irene McGhee, he learned she was sleeping on the streets of South Los Angeles.

So the man with the blue mohawk and wraparound shades decided to build the grandmother nicknamed "Smokie" a tiny house on wheels. Summers estimates he spent less than $500 on plywood, shingles, a window and a door for the 8-foot-long structure that can be moved around by one person.

It turned out so well that Summers launched a crowdfunding campaign to construct similar shelters for other homeless people in his neighbourhood. He had no grand ambitions beyond lending a helping hand in a city with thousands of residents without roofs over their heads.

"Honestly, I thought I'd raise enough money to help a dozen people, call it a day, and then go back to stressing about my job," said the 38-year-old, who runs an online apparel store.

Summers never thought more than 5.6 million people would watch a YouTube video of him constructing the house for McGhee, who's been homeless for more than a decade. It ends with McGhee doing a little jig and hanging up a "Home Sweet Home" sign.

The GoFundMe campaign — called Tiny House, Huge Purpose — has brought in nearly $60,000 in less than a month. And Summers' inbox is overflowing with offers for help from carpenters, homeless advocates, retirees and children as young as 6.

Summers suddenly considers himself a man with a mission. He has started a non-profit and reached out to Los Angeles officials to get the city involved in his plan to build more tiny homes for transients.

"People are calling it a movement," he said Thursday. "I'm humbled. But now I can't turn my back on it."

Builders said they would donate materials, contractors offered to help in the design of the small, wheeled structures, and chefs said they would bring food to the construction sites.

Summers said he wants to hire homeless people to help with the construction. McGhee, 61, said she would be the first person to sign up.

"I'm ready to start building," she said. "Give people a good night's rest. Someplace warm."

It is unclear if the city would enforce rules for these homes. McGhee said police have told her she won't be bothered as long as she moves the home, which is small enough to fit in a parking space, every three days.

And the structure is so small that it wouldn't require permits if built on private property, said Luke Zamperini, spokesman for the city Building and Safety Department.

"We do not consider it a dwelling or a building as it does not meet the definition of either," Zamperini said.

News from © The Associated Press, 2015
The Associated Press

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