“The need in our city is so tremendous that not even the loudest thunderstorm could shake it. You are probably reading this in a chair, under a roof, comfortable as we all should be.”Zach Waters
Homes for Hearts recently welcomed its first formerly homeless resident to Memphis’s tiniest home. Founded by Memphian Zach Waters, Homes for Hearts is committed to building permanent, safe, affordable, and ecologically-friendly housing to help men and women experiencing chronic homelessness become homeowners. The lovely, four-room, 280-square-foot home in historic Orange Mound was built by Dwayne A. Jones Construction, a leading force in affordable housing in Memphis and is the smallest home permitted in Shelby County, TN. It includes a tiny kitchen with a stove and fridge, a bathroom with a stand-up shower, a small living room and bedroom. It’s the first home built by the Memphis organization, and it’s based on similar small-home programs across the country. Homes for Hearts adheres to the Housing First model, which research shows is a more successful, sustainable, and cost-effective solution to chronic homelessness. Homes for Hearts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is also partnering with Room in the Inn to ensure each new resident finds medical, employment, social and other supportive services. Other local partners include ArchInc and Binghampton Community Land Trust.
Below, Zach Waters reflects on the opportunities presented through Homes for Hearts.
Saturday, I spoke with our first tiny home resident, an elderly, disabled Veteran who has been living on the streets of Memphis for years, on the phone for 45 minutes, and man was he in good spirits. The previous night there was an intense storm that barreled through Memphis, shaking the ground and trees, dumping barrels of rain on the cold, hard ground. I was curious about how his experience was in his new 280 square foot tiny home, to which his response was, “Just fine!” He cracked jokes, told me about the Ikea curtains he successfully hung, and how his neighbor brought him a folding metal chair for the porch. He spoke of his other neighbor to the North, and how he finally got to meet him and the football game he got to watch.
We have stayed in great contact since his move-in, and to first handedly see and hear of his adjustment to this new neighborhood and tiny house is truly heartwarming. He told me about how welcoming all the neighbors have been and that he was doing real good. We talked and laughed and joked until he was interrupted by his newfound friend and neighbor walking down the street to come chat with him.
This is the Memphis I know. A community seeking community. A man seeking a house and finding a home. A man sleeping on a mattress in a heated house, rather than on a park bench in the freezing rain while a thunderstorm erupts all around him, because the Memphis community came together to build a new opportunity.
But this is beyond difficult for him. Beyond difficult to have the community bonding together to provide this house and opportunity to him. Difficult to know that he is warm, while his other friends living on the streets are still going without. A few days before, we sat in the tiny house as he spoke of what was killing him. As we sat in the 280 sf tiny home, he pointed to the floor, corners of the room, the spot where I was sitting and the spot he was sitting, and said, “It’s killing me to know I can’t bring my friends over here and offer them a spot in the house to lay tonight.”
Hearing his words, seeing his face as we sat in the smallest house permitted in Shelby County has rained fuel on my fire to continue connecting Memphis to build as many tiny homes across our city as possible for those experiencing homelessness. As I sat at Room in the Inn and spoke with our next 2 potential residents and told them it would be at least 6 months before we had the next 2 homes built, a storm tore through my stomach. The need in our city is so tremendous that not even the loudest thunderstorm could shake it. You are probably reading this in a chair, under a roof, comfortable as we all should be. I am, as I shake writing this, hoping that these words reach the right person, corporation, foundation to raise our first million dollars for Memphis.
We will continue our fight, as our first resident continues his. We will work to bring permanent, community-driven change to the city we love so dearly.
You can help us.
Zachary Waters is the Founder and CEO of Homes for Hearts and A Lee Dog Story. He was born and raised in Memphis, TN. Zach has always been passionate about filming a docuseries about men, women, children, and others, experiencing homelessness, so that they can tell their stories of living life on the streets in their own words. To learn more about the house and the program, contact Zach at firstname.lastname@example.org.