Malheur County woman finds hope for the future through tiny home project

Anne St. Peter talks about how the Ontario tiny home project has helped her get off the street and provide a new way forward for her life. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – Anne St. Peter knows hard times.

She survived domestic abuse, fell into illegal narcotic use and ended up homeless.

Now, though, life may be looking up.

St. Peter believes she is on the long road back thanks to Ontario’s tiny home project.

 “I feel like this is my key for good things to happen,” St. Peter said last week as she stood in the doorway of her temporary shed-like home in Ontario.

As she talked, city crews hustled to finish installing ramps to the 16 tiny houses in a lot next to Origins Faith Community Church at 312 N.W. 2nd St.

The tiny house effort was the creation of the Homeless Siting Task Force and began in 2019.

The task force consists of representatives from the city, the nonprofit Community in Action, local churches, business owners, landowners and volunteers.

The lot next to the church is owned by Caldwell resident Stephanie Cook, who donated the use of the property for the tiny houses.

The project runs until April 30, when the tiny houses will close. 

St. Peter said she is grateful for the shelter.

“It’s not long term, but I am thankful,” she said.

Space inside the tiny houses is tight – imagine a mid-sized shed – but St. Peter’s place was tidy with clothes and other items, packed inside small, white baskets, stored under a wide cot.

The scent of a Scentsy candle hovered over the blanket-covered cot. A small table, guarded by a black garbage can, sat against the east wall. A dark red carpet stretched from the doorway to the far wall.

St. Peter, who grew up in La Grande, said her chance for a home is “huge.”

“This feels welcome. I feel well supported. I don’t feel like I am homeless. I am not less,” said St. Peter.

St. Peter said just before she learned she was eligible to move into a tiny house she was “about ready to give up.”

“I was seriously at that point. I didn’t want to go on anymore,” said St. Peter.

St. Peter said her life began to unravel during her marriage and worsened after a divorce. She said she developed a dependency on meth and alcohol, which amplified the domestic abuse. St. Peter said she eventually decided to fix her life and completed a 110-day drug treatment.

“It’s been a long journey,” she said.

Domestic abuse, she said, played a major role in her spiral to homelessness.

“The drugs had a factor but the abuse is so much worse when you are on drugs. I didn’t feel like I was going to be anyone again,” said St. Peter.

Now that she is in a tiny house, St. Peter said she doesn’t feel “like I have to give up.”

St. Peter said she hopes – with help from Community in Action – to transition into some type of low-income housing after the tiny home facility closes in April.

Community in Action oversees the project and uses state grants and donations to support the program. Origins Faith Community Church manages the facility through a contract with Community in Action.

Priscilla Garcia, housing program manager for Community in Action, said last week 10 of the tiny homes were occupied.

She said the other six homes will be occupied this week.

Now, said Garcia, the priority is to provide shelter for seniors, people with disabilities and households with children.

“If we don’t end up filling up with that high priority population we will move down the list,” said Garcia.

Garcia said last week the residents are a mix of families and individuals like St. Peter.

Barb Higinbotham, Community in Action executive director, said last month there was a waiting list to get into the tiny houses.

Garcia said beginning this week a sign-up sheet for showers at Origins will be available.

Residents can also get a dinner Monday through Friday at Origins.

Garcia said so far, the project is a success.

“We were able to get a lot of people out of the cold,” said Garcia.

St. Peter, 37, said she believes the tiny home project could be decisive for her future.

“This gives me hope,” she said.

She paused, peered across the small compound of gravel at the other tiny homes.

“This should be called New Hope,” she said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at 541-473-3377.

Previous coverage:

Homes for the homeless nearly ready to go in Ontario

Homeless dilemma lingers for county but planned revival of tiny home project in Ontario may help the displaced

Ontario council approves tiny homes for homeless

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