The Tucson group aims to build tiny homes for youth leaving foster care

A Tucson nonprofit wants to use former Gov. Doug Ducey’s shipping containers from his border wall to build tiny homes and a supportive community for transitional youth aging out of the foster care system.

Located on a quiet street across from the Tucson Unified Food Services building and next to Bethel Community Baptist Church, a new-look shipping container sits on a dirt lot. This is the beginning of the community Brian Benz hopes to create through his comprehensive nonprofit transformation.

Holistic Transformation is a faith-based non-profit looking to not only build a residential community, but also create a support system for them. He hopes to build a community of seven tiny homes out of shipping containers that will house a judicial navigator residing on two adjacent church lots.

“It’s about restoring relationships, restoring community,” Benz said at a recent event celebrating the newly purchased shipping container.

Each tiny house will be a one-bedroom home, with a full kitchen, bathroom and washer and dryer, Benz said. Residents will choose what the inside will look like, from the style of the cabinets to the color and fabric of the sofa cushions.

The existing shipping container will be used by CarePortal to store beds and other items for families in need until Wholistic Transformation can build them into a home.

Benz said he was called to start the effort when he learned of the large number of foster youth who become homeless, which often happens within a few years of leaving foster care after turning 18.

Foster care: the highway to homelessness

The foster care system is often referred to as the highway to homelessness, according to the National Institute on Youth Welfare.

According to the institute, an estimated 20% of youth in care become homeless once they are emancipated at age 18. Nationally, 50% of the homeless population spent time in foster homes.

Annually, 20,000 children will find themselves aging out of foster care, often thrust into the world without a support system or loving family, and losing access to government-provided services, according to the Annie E. Foundation. Casey.

Arizona has 11,000 youth in foster care, with 800 to 1,000 of them aging out of the system, said Luis De La Cruz, president and CEO of Arizona Friends of Foster Children.

His organization provides a variety of child care programs, helping between 4,000 and 6,000 children in the system statewide, offering a range of services from post-secondary programs to childhood activities.

The organization also offers one-on-one mentoring, helping transitional youth leaving foster care find housing and employment.

The reason many foster youth eventually become homeless “is not the same as it is with all other populations,” De La Cruz said. “It’s not a symptom of a larger problem. It’s not because of their addiction. It’s not necessarily because of their mental health. It’s just that they were in foster care.”

Once young people in foster care reach the age of 18, they can decide to extend their time in care or live independently. If they choose to live alone, they will receive $1,200 per month.

De la Cruz said many of the challenges they face include high rental prices and navigational concerns. This includes not having enough money for a deposit, co-signing a lease, or even the correct documents that landlords may request.

“A lot of times, they need some assets up front, like a deposit and maybe two months of rent. Maybe they need some credit history, and they don’t have it,” De La Cruz said.

Hence comes the comprehensive transformation.

Benz said his goal is to create a community of support around residents with the help of a neighborhood church and resident navigator and help residents achieve their goals.

From Ducey’s temporary and illegal border wall to the community of support

Benz hopes to use the state’s shipping containers, which were previously used to build a temporary wall near the Arizona-Mexico border last year, to build the tiny homes.

Buyer Awareness: Shipping containers used in Arizona’s temporary border wall are now on sale

More than 2,000 shipping containers removed from the Arizona-Mexico border will be available from June through September and government and nonprofit entities will have the first opportunity to purchase them, the state said.

The state is selling quality C and D shipping containers, which have been “heavily used and likely have very noticeable dents and cracks,” the Arizona Department of Administration said in a news release.

For Benz, this means spending about $5,000 less than he paid for the current car, which will require more work to make it habitable and will have to be purchased sight unseen.

Required answer: Tucson is looking at tiny homes as a potential solution to its affordable housing problems

For Pedro de Velasco, a board member who works with immigrant communities, using these shipping containers to build community instead of separating people helped convince him to join the board.

“This is a better way to use than what Governor Ducey was using at the time,” he said of the shipping containers.

De Velasco said he liked the idea of ​​using shipping containers to build community instead of turning people away.

Convert shipping containers into tiny homes

The work done so far, from architectural drawings of the future community and the interior of the shipping container homes, to organizing a celebratory event for the nonprofit, has been done by volunteers.

Although Benz is looking for funding to complete the project, he has community support.

“We don’t have a lot of money, but we have a lot of committed people. They are willing to help in different areas where their skills and talents are,” Benz said.

All of the work will come through volunteer efforts, he said in an email.

Financing assistance: Pima County is awarding more than $2 million to affordable housing projects in Tucson

Benz said he is looking to raise $12,000 to complete the first shipping container. Each subsequent unit will cost $40,000 to complete. The cost of the entire project is expected to range from $400,000 to $450,000, including one year’s salary for the resident navigator.

Once it is completed and residents move into their new tiny homes, their rent will cover ongoing expenses.

Benz said the rent will likely be $800 as an initial cost but it will incentivize them to go to school and participate in various courses by lowering the rent depending on what residents do.

With self-contained shipping container homes, people often worry about how hot their home will be. To prevent overheating, Benz said he would place four and a half inches of Styrofoam on the outside of the container.

Once his project is complete, he hopes this type of tiny home community can be a model for other vulnerable populations affected by housing insecurity, including veterans, seniors, and people released from prison.

“We have to start something,” Benz said. “The need is there, but the need is huge.”

“Quick and easy”: Tucson is considering relaxing regulations on tiny homes within city limits

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