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A community of small houses is planned in Erie as a safe haven for homeless families

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The first small homes in a planned community for the homeless in Erie could be ready for occupancy as early as January.

Community accommodation services plans to provide up to 10 to 12 tiny homes on the organization’s shelter property at 655 W. 16th St. in Erie. The houses will accommodate families that the shelter cannot accommodate.

“We can accommodate a mother and children now, but when there is a husband, wife and child or children, we have nowhere to keep them together. What if a boy is 16, 17 or 18 , it has to start from the male side of the shelter,” said Diane Lazette, executive director of Community Shelter Services. “Tiny houses will be safe havens for families with children.”

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The tiny homes will be up to 17 by 14 feet and will be prefabricated by a local builder, Lazette said. The homes will be located just east of the playground on the frontage of the property along West 17th Street.

Community Shelter Services is looking for sponsors to help pay the costs, estimated at $15,000 for each tiny house. A first sponsor, the Kiwanis Club of Erie, is already on board, Lazette said.

“We also had several other organizations and businesses that said they were definitely interested. There are also local entrepreneurs who said they would be willing to donate some of their time to get this done,” said Lazette said. “The Erie community is wonderful.”

Community Shelter Services hopes to have one or two small homes ready for families in early 2023.

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What to expect in Tiny Houses

“We’re starting small,” Lazette said. “The smaller houses will require additional staff and increased security, so we have to start a bit slowly. With temperatures already dropping, if we can immediately save two families from the cold this winter, we will consider that a success.”

The occupants of the small houses will have access to four hot meals a day and free laundry facilities in the main shelter. They will also benefit from 24/7 security and easy access to transportation.

“We’re right on a bus route, so we make sure the kids can get to school,” Lazette said. “The house will be a place where families can truly call themselves home.”

For veterans: Donations, Big Projects for the Little Homes Community at the Erie Sports Center

No zoning issues involved

City officials are reviewing the tiny house plan and found no issues with zoning or city codes.

“They’re pretty much ready to go,” said Andy Zimmerman, code enforcement officer for the city. “(The mini-houses) are an accessory use to the use of the main building.”

The property is zoned for residential and limited commercial use.

“Strictly from a zoning perspective, the project is roughly a modest expansion of the property’s current use for shelter and transitional housing services,” said Jake Welsh, the city’s director of zoning.

Community Shelter Services has been helping homeless people in Erie since 1973.

Another small community of homes, for veterans, is planned at the Erie Sports Center in Summit Township. This project is sponsored by Connecticut-based Bookwell Travel, the Veterans Miracle Center Erie and the Erie Sports Center.

Erie News Now first reported on the Community Accommodation Services Tiny Houses project.

VSContact Valerie Myers at [email protected].

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