During a sleepless night years ago, an idea crossed Summer Creek High School (SCHS) Assistant Principal Allen Segura’s mind that has since become a reality.
After learning that veterans in Kansas City built tiny homes for homeless vets, Segura wondered why high school students couldn’t do the same. As it turns out, they can. After forming a team and getting the “go-ahead” from Humble ISD Administration, SCHS and Kingwood Park High School students, teachers and staff have been working together to create a master-planned tiny home community for homeless veterans in the Houston area.
Students Helping Veterans: Big Heroes, Tiny Homes is a program organized and driven by students who, in collaboration with local architects, engineers and other community partners, design and build homes on each campus in an effort to “provide a sense of community and safety” to veterans who have lived on the streets of Houston. The hope is for each high school to produce one tiny house per year. With veterans accounting for 28% of the homeless population in Houston as reported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the effect may seem miniscule. However, Segura imagines the difference it would make if every high school in America built a tiny house to help veterans get off the streets.
Some other high schools in the Houston area, including Hall Center for Education in Aldine ISD, have already expressed an interest in joining the Tiny Homes effort, a promising start for a program with the vision and ultimate goal of growing nationwide.
Kingwood Park completed their first tiny house last year. Summer Creek finished their first one this month, celebrating the achievement with an Open House and Key Ceremony Feb. 21 at the school to welcome the chosen veteran, a 55-year-old disabled former Marine, to his new home. Summer Creek only recently learned the identity of the veteran; the selection process is handled by churches and other nonprofits in the area. Summer Creek Architecture Teacher James Gaylord, who oversees construction of the tiny house project, said that, though he initially thought it would have been nice to have known the identity of the veteran earlier in the process, the project was more meaningful without having known him.
“The kids have been working on this project for the last year for this unknown person. It’s kind of like what he did with his service. He served all of us. He didn’t know our names or our faces, but he served us,” said Gaylord.
The 325-square-foot, fully equipped and furnished home was designed by 2019 graduate Natalia Andrade, who seemingly had maximum efficiency in mind. Nine- and 11-foot ceilings with an abundance of natural light give it a spacious and airy feel. It will soon be transported from the build site at the school to Liberty County, where it will sit adjacent to the Kingwood Park tiny home on a family farm which has been converted by owner Barbara Lange into what she hopes will become a tiny house community for Houston’s homeless veterans.
The Humble ISD Students Helping Veterans: Big Heroes, Tiny Homes program, while classified as Career and Trade Education (CTE), encourages students schoolwide to become involved in the tiny house project. At SCHS, students who work in design and construction are enrolled in a construction management course; however, every department at the school, from English to ROTC to choir, takes part in some important way. The student council is also heavily involved, having presented the program to the City of Houston, City of Humble and Humble ISD Administration in order to promote awareness of veteran homelessness in Houston and to involve the community in the Tiny Homes effort.
Each house costs approximately $25,000 to construct. With materials cost only partially funded by Humble ISD, the tiny house projects would not be possible without community partnerships and the financial support of nonprofits, businesses and private individuals through donations of cash and materials. Local businesses that generously donated to the Summer Creek tiny house project include Drake House Moving Company, Wisenbaker Builder Services, Skero’s Furniture, Summerwood Home Depot No. 1832, and Specialized Building Systems.
SCHS students, teachers and staff invested over a year’s worth of time, knowledge and heart into their tiny house, a service-learning project where the product itself is really only a by-product, according to Segura, who serves as program director. The real product, he said, is what the students gain from this experience as they extend “not a hand out, but a hand up” in service to veterans and the fact that one less veteran will live on the streets of Houston.
The experience itself was anything but simple, as is the case with construction. Students worked in class, after class, on weekends and in all kinds of weather, from hot and humid to freezing cold, in order to complete the project. They made mistakes and they learned from them, gaining skills along the way. They gained something even more invaluable on this journey, however – a deeper sense of gratitude and understanding. Student Isaac Martinez, who represents the builders on the executive committee for the project, expressed that he has family members in the military so he’s always been thankful for what they do but, after his involvement with the project, he now feels that he needs to give back. Student Councilmember Lauren Argueta said she has gained much from her involvement in the project as lead presenter and executive chair.
“While I was aware and grateful for what has been given to me by veterans, it becomes so much more real when you’re a part of the research [on veteran homelessness] … the realization that it’s not so distant, it’s closer to home than you think,” said Argueta. For more information on the Students Helping Veterans: Big Heroes, Tiny Homes program, visit humbleisd.net/Domain/10782.