Porta Potty homes could help solve southern California homeless crises

Posted at 5:48 AM, May 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-13 08:48:06-04

(KGTV) - When you walk past a portable toilet what do you see?

Maybe the better question is what do you smell? Let’s be honest it’s rarely a pleasant sight and a walk inside can test the limits of even the strongest olfactories.

But a Southern California man saw something completely different after stepping inside one of these porta potties recently. He saw a home.

Yup, in the plastic sewage container T.K. Devine somehow saw a way to curb the growing homeless problem. When you stop laughing just take a minute to compose yourself and keep reading.

We met Devine at a small artist warehouse south of downtown Los Angeles. A stones’ throw from this artist collective is one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. It’s hard to ignore the problem and Devine just couldn’t ignore it anymore.

“I call it a port home,” says Devine with a long, perfectly coifed beard that would make a lumberjack jealous.

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He’s what you might envision when you think of a guy who could craft a portable toilet into a home. Devine has several odd jobs but he’s also an author and has a passion for sustainable, affordable housing. In other words, he thinks “tiny homes” are the wave of the future with dwindling incomes and higher costs of living in California. So he came up with the idea for Our Own BackYard Homes.

“I don’t think it’s for everybody,” says Devine. “I think there are folks out there though that will see this in action and might start to think about applying it to their own lives.”

Devine sees this as a way to house the homeless until they can get back on their feet. But he also sees this project for anyone willing to downsize just to have affordable housing. Still not convinced? Well, you need to take a look inside what was once and 8x8 wheelchair accessible portable toilet. There is a mini kitchen.

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“The portable stove here that I can set up,” adds Devine pulling out a camping stove from a hidden compartment.

There’s also a mini-refrigerator like you might find in a college dorm. And if you’re wondering, the fridge and other small electronics will be powered by solar panels on top of the portable home.

Connected will be a separate but smaller portable toilet that will actually serve as the toilet and shower for the unit using a gray water system.

Back in the “main house” shelving is built-in for clothing, there’s also a nightstand, and of course, a bed that folds out from the wall much like a Murphy bed. And if you have guests…

“It was intended to be built for two,” says Devine as he stretches out his 6’2” frame with room to spare.

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Still, think it sounds absurd? Well, consider the number of homeless in San Diego County is over 9,000. With the average rent well over $2,000 a month according to Zillow, the homeless problem is likely to grow.

And that number pales in comparison to the 50,000 homeless in and around Los Angeles. But where do you put these tiny porta homes? Devine found the answer just driving around LA.

"What I saw was an abundance of residential space in LA," says Devine.

His vision is to utilize abandoned, dilapidated lots, and backyards of homeowners willing to share their own space for these temporary houses on wheels.

"Converting a space like this into something that is almost completely independent is something that a lot of landowners and homeowners can accept on their property," says Devine with a smile envisioning his project coming to life.

And to prove it can work Devine is not just talking the talk; he’s walking the walk. When his prototype is complete he plans to travel throughout Los Angeles for a year living in this tiny portable home.

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"Yeah, I'm going to be the resident, full time for a year," says Devine laughing. "The idea is that I want to model this behavior for other folks to prove that it works.

Yes, it may be unconventional and who knows if it will ever come to life with zoning laws and push back from those who say, “Not in my backyard.” But at least Devine is offering a solution with his Own Backyard.