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Man on mission to build tiny houses for one city’s homeless

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Los Angeles resident Elvis Summers, right, poses with his tiny house on wheels he built for Irene "Smokie" McGhee, 60, left, a woman who had been sleeping on the streets in his South Los Angeles neighborhood.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Los Angeles resident Elvis Summers poses with his tiny house on wheels he built for a woman who had been sleeping on the streets in his South Los Angeles neighborhood on Thursday.
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LOS ANGELES >> After Elvis Summers built a tiny house on wheels for a woman who had been sleeping on the streets, he launched a crowdfunding campaign to construct similar shelters for other homeless people in his South Los Angeles neighborhood.

He had no grand ambitions beyond lending a helping hand in a city with thousands of residents without roofs over their heads.

“Honestly I thought I’d raise enough money to help a dozen people, call it a day, and then go back to stressing about my job,” said the 38-year-old, who runs an online apparel store.

Summers never thought more than 5.6 million people would watch a YouTube video of him constructing the 8-foot-long house for “Smokie,” a grandmother who’s been homeless for more than a decade. He estimates he spent less than $500 on plywood, shingles, a window and a door. The video ends with Smokie doing a little jig and hanging up a “Home Sweet Home” sign.

The GoFundMe campaign — called Tiny House, Huge Purpose — has brought in nearly $60,000 in less than a month. And Summers’ inbox is overflowing with offers for help from carpenters, homeless advocates, retirees and children as young as 6.

Now Summers, who sports a blue mohawk and wraparound shades, suddenly considers himself a man with a mission. He has started a nonprofit and reached out to Los Angeles officials to get the city involved in his plan to build more tiny homes for transients.

“People are calling it a movement,” he said Thursday. “I’m humbled. But now I can’t turn my back on it.”

Builders said they would donate materials, contractors offered to help in the design of the small wheeled structures, and chefs said they would to bring food to the construction sites.

Summers said he wants to hire homeless people to help with the construction. Smokie said she would be the first person to sign up.

“I’m ready to start building,” she said. “Give people a good night’s rest. Someplace warm.”

It is unclear if the city would enforce rules for these homes. Smokie said police have told her she won’t be bothered as long as she moves the home, which is small enough to fit in a parking space, every three days.

And the structure is so small that it wouldn’t require permits if built on private property, said Luke Zamperini, spokesman for the city Building and Safety department.

“We do not consider it a dwelling or a building as it does not meet the definition of either,” Zamperini said.

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