These tiny homes, part of a project in Ontario to help area homeless, are nearly ready to be occupied. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – A program to provide tiny houses for the homeless is nearly ready to open but it will be at a new site near a day shelter in the northwest part of town.

City crews were busy last week moving 16 tiny houses to a lot next to Origins Faith Community Church at 312 N.W. 2nd St.

“We are just in the process of getting the site development work done,” said Barb Higinbotham, Community in Action executive director.

The tiny house project was the creation of the Homeless Siting Task Force and started in 2019. The task force consists of representatives from the city, Community in Action, local churches, business owners, landowners and volunteers.

Higinbotham said last week that progress on the new site recently picked up and she plans for the homes to be ready to occupy by the week of Christmas.

“That is our hope. We have a waiting list already so it is not a matter of finding people in need,” said Higinbotham. 

Higinbotham said about ten people are on the waiting list.

Higinbotham crafted a report earlier this year on the pilot project and showed 39 families were served and eight families subsequently moved into regular housing.

The task force, said Higinbotham, is working to iron out several details before the homes can be used.

Higinbotham said the task force also wants to hire a caretaker to manage the homes.

“There are some studio apartments there and we’d really love to have someone live on site,” said Higinbotham.

Higinbotham said the project is funded through state grants and donations “from private citizens and churches.”

“Part of it is the city of Ontario has set aside $10,000 for homeless services,” said Higinbotham.

Higinbotham said the installation of an electrical transformer slowed the project for a few weeks but that problem was solved.

“Idaho Power was a really good partner and ended up getting us scheduled sooner, which hurried the rest of the process up,” said Higinbotham.

Adam Brown, Ontario city manager, said the required city permits to allow the houses have been issued.

“I am hopeful they will get them open this month,” said Brown.

Caldwell resident Stephanie Cook, who owns the lot and the apartment duplex at the site, said she is finalizing an agreement with the city that contains the option to renew every year.

Cook – a member of the Caldwell-based Community Care Team, a community-based nonprofit - is donating the use of the property because, she said, she wants to “be part of the solution.”

“We want to do is build a model that can be replicated in other places and other counties and states,” said Cook.

Cook said the effort isn’t “just about getting people off the street.”

“But also helping them become successful in their own lives,” said Cook.

Cook said the tiny home project is not designed to be a permanent solution to the city’s homeless challenges.

“This is just a first step. It is temporary housing and it is temporary for a reason because this is not the expectation they will come and go back out on the street. It is a first step of becoming permanently housed and employed,” said Cook.

She said the program is about “giving people a hand up, not a hand out.”

The goal, Cook said, is to provide a holistic approach to the homeless problem and that fits with the roles and aims of the different organizations in the task force.

“The city is working on it, Community in Action, myself, the faith-based community is coming in to help with feeding and bedding and counseling and jobs and all those different things,” said Cook.

Cook said she bought the lot and the apartment duplex in 2013 as an investment.

Since that time, Cook said she renovated nearly all of the apartments.

Brown said there are long-range goals for other improvements.

“In the middle of the property they would like to have, like, a community room with a permanent bathroom and that way they don’t have to bring in port-a-potties. They want it to look nice,” said Brown.

Previous coverage:

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

Ontario's tiny home camp in legal peril as neighboring business seeks court injunction.

Tiny homes for Ontario clear hurdle

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Get a full year of access to the digital service of the Malheur Enterprise at a 25% savings. No news organization can match our quality and depth of coverage of Malheur County. This is a limited time offer you can get HERE.