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Thursday August 18th

Tiny home project seeks to help mentally ill

UNC's Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health is helping create a tiny home community at the Farm at Penny Lane for homeless people with mental illness.
Buy Photos UNC's Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health is helping create a tiny home community at the Farm at Penny Lane for homeless people with mental illness.

Tiny homes are becoming a viable housing option for homeless people with mental illness.

The UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health, in collaboration with The Farm at Penny Lane, ? is in the process of building a tiny home community to help mentally ill homeless people receive housing and therapy at an affordable price.  

The project is currently in its first phase and the first participant will move into the project's first tiny home in the spring on a trial basis. The research participant will live in the home and receive therapy based on the farm’s principles of a holistic and sustainable approach to bettering the lives of those with mental illness.

Rebecca Sorensen, community development consultant of The Farm at Penny Lane and recent master's graduate of UNC, helms the project. In an email, Sorensen said research participants will come from clients currently being served by the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health. 

“An interdisciplinary research team made up of faculty and students from the School of Social Work, the School of Occupational Sciences and the School of Journalism are studying the viability of this housing model for individuals diagnosed with mental illness,” Sorensen said in an email.

Chatham Habit for Humanity is a community partner with the Tiny Home Community Collaborative, assisting the collaborative with finding a contractor to build the tiny home. The contractors donated their labor and Chatham Habitat for Humanity provided building advice.

“The goal of the farm is to serve those with disabilities and provide them with a home,” Anna Spears, development director at Chatham Habit for Humanity said. 

She said the farm wants to build a total of 10 homes by the end of Phase III. The rent for the tiny homes would be $250 per month and include the cost of utilities. 

The collaborative is reaching out to the community, asking for volunteers to help them with funding, as well as spreading the word about mental health issues among the homeless population in North Carolina.

“Financial support from the community, as well as awareness about our project, the extraordinary need for affordable housing in our state, and how that intersects with mental illness and the recovery process would be meaningful ways for the community to help promote this initiative,” Sorensen said in an email.

Julie Hennis, coordinator of volunteer programs for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the collaborative reached out to schools and asked for student volunteers. 

Though Hennis said she didn’t yet know what students would be doing when they volunteered, she still said it would be valuable for them to spend their time there.

"It's good for (the students) to give some of their hours back to the community," she said.

The Tiny Home Community Collaborative believes that without providing for the basic need of shelter for mentally ill homeless persons, rehabilitation is not possible. The collaborative hopes to give them that security.

“A house is a way to give them a firm foundation,” Spears said.

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