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Seattle teens help build tiny homes for homeless

Sawhorse Revolution is a local non-profit teaching teens homebuilding skills as well as compassion for the homeless.

Joshua Huston



Despite the difficult and challenging circumstances in which they exist, the homes in Nickelsville can be as eccentric and as lively as their inhabitants, who often refer to themselves as Nickelodeons. Some of the shelters are painted flamingo pink, with white doors. Others are made of salvaged materials, including street signs.

If you’re driving on Dearborn Street near Goodwill, you can see most of the tiny homes in the encampment, but the ones made from salvaged materials have something extra special about them. They were built with help from Seattle high school students through the organization Sawhorse Revolution.

“Through this program, students go visit the site and talk to people about their lives, and get rid of all of the assumptions about homeless people,” says Sarah Smith, Sawhorse’s program director. “One of the important things I think we’re doing is trying to engage the community, and combat the idea that homelessness is a function of how good you are. Homelessness is an event that happens to you. It’s not a result of who you are.”

According to the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, there were an estimated 10,047 homeless people in Seattle on the annual One Night Count, which took place last January; 1,738 of those individuals were under the age of 18. For too many people in the Emerald City, the streets aren’t paved with gold.

Nickelsville, the main homeless encampment that Sawhorse works with, is currently located at a state-approved site permitted to house 40 residents. “In the past there have been more than that,” says Micah Stanovsky, Sawhorse’s operations director, “and the encampment has been on several different sites, with as many as 70 to 80 residents.”

The growing homeless population in need of homes, and the shrinking number of shop classes offered in public schools provides the perfect opportunity for high school students in search of creative, hands-on activities.

“Most of us had a desire to learn these things, but hadn’t had the opportunity to learn them in school, and that’s the sense we were getting from students, parents, and teachers,” says Smith. “Shop teachers would tell us of the age when there were shop classes in public schools, and now you look and there aren’t any in the community.”

Tiny houses completed by Sawhorse Revolution


Students who volunteer with Sawhorse Revolution during their spring, summer, and fall sessions get to help design tiny homes with local architectural firms and construct the small, transportable homes. Most important, they help provide a sense of security to an extremely vulnerable portion of our community.

“We’re providing [the homeless] with more than tiny homes,” Smith says. “We’re providing them with some structure, and a place to lay down their burdens as well as their personal items. Having a surrounding that reflects that sense of dignity is so important. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that for every homeless person in Seattle, but bringing it up and having the conversation is a great thing.”

At-risk youth are also pitching in to help build the tiny homes for Nickelsville. In November, eight students working through the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative helped to build a home for Nickelsville’s newest encampment, currently being built on an empty lot at 22nd & Union; the site is being provided by a local Lutheran church.

“It’s being organized by the Low Income Housing Institute, Nickelsville, the local Lutheran church, an architectural firm, and a little by us,” says Stanovsky. “The site will have 15 tiny homes, each of which houses at least one person. Some of them will house more than one for families. It will be set up for more of a long-term stay, like transitional housing.”

With the help of those organizations and local youth, the tiny homes for the new location are almost halfway completed; completion is estimated to take a year and a half.

“Our mission is to foster confident, community-oriented youth through the power of carpentry and craft,” Smith says. “That’s what we plan to do.”


To support Sawhorse Revolution, learn about volunteer opportunities  and see the structures that local students are building, visit facebook.com/SawhorseRevolution/

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