FOR THE GREATER GOOD
Tiny houses are all the rage for the sustainable living set these days, but dozens of tiny house villages, like the one on Madison’s East Side, have sprung up across the nation to address a different kind of first-world trend: Homelessness.
“I didn’t know anything about the state of homelessness in Madison,” says Bruce Wallbaum, a former HVAC salesman who learned about the issue by dint of some friendships made around midnight fires with folks who had no place else to stay warm.
He’s been a contributing voice to the Occupy Madison movement since it started in October 2011 and now serves as treasurer of the nonprofit’s board. He doesn’t like calling this near full-time job “work,” nor does he consider himself a “volunteer.”
“It’s weird to use the word ‘volunteer’— what if I’m just hanging out with people I like?” Wallbaum says, sitting behind the counter of the village’s tiny retail store, where donated items and those made by residents help raise funds for the project. Thanks to the nonprofit’s work, five former homeless people now live in the brightly painted tiny houses in the Occupy Madison village, once a half-empty auto repair lot covered in car parts, used oil and diesel fumes.
And in August, Madison will see a different kind of housing bidding war when a donated tiny house and some other items will be auctioned to help raise funds for the group. The money will be used for additional bathrooms and proper kitchen facilities and four more tiny houses, which will complete the village.
In addition to the donated tiny house, shown here styled with items from the group’s retail store, other items up for auction include handmade Adirondack chairs with a Wisconsin flair, little free-library boxes, an upscale chicken coop and a print of a Frank Lloyd Wright sketch. The tiny house, which includes kitchen and bathroom facilities, two lofts and a fold-down deck, was built and donated to Occupy Madison by Inpro, a Wisconsin-based architectural products company.
Online bidding starts July 15. The live auction takes place at 11 a.m. Aug. 26 at the tiny house village, where state Rep. Chris Taylor will serve as the celebrity auctioneer, Wallbaum says.
What would you do with this mini version of the American Dream? A relaxation space? An artist’s studio? Guest house? A play room? Or perhaps something loftier. However the wee home is eventually used, as the Occupy Madison motto says, make your plans “one tiny idea at a time.”