Building tiny homes to give the homeless a real chance.
Morgantown’s John Garlow is no stranger to home building. But the structures he’s building these days are much smaller than the massive, custom timber frame homes he’s known for.
A decade ago, Garlow became enamored with the idea of off-the-grid, tiny-home living. He built a tiny house for himself where he’s lived for the past eight years on acreage that’s been in his family since 1760. Now, he has his sights set on the possibility of giving Mon County’s homeless population a chance at a new start by building more of them.
The prototype structure that Garlow designed and is building offers 96 square feet of interior space made for year-round living and uses materials that make economic sense. The tiny home features a sleeping loft upstairs, a rainwater collection cistern that provides a gravity-fed water supply, solar panels on the roof, and a special composting toilet system. The design includes plenty of glass to make it feel much bigger. The project budget from start to finish is just $15,000.
Garlow plans to finish the prototype by fall and live in it through the winter to ensure the design holds up against the bitter cold and snow. He anticipates there could be issues that need to be addressed, but he’s confident the design will work well and that the structure will survive and pass muster.
Garlow hopes to have discussions with property owners and community-minded investors to build more of them and to find small pockets throughout the area where they could be set.
“This whole idea is about helping people. People deserve a real chance,” Garlow says. “This could be an individual space that would offer a step up rather than just surviving. It could really change people’s lives.”
Garlow envisions setting the tiny homes in places where residents would have easy access to town and to the services they need. And unlike tiny home communities that tap into shared utilities, Garlow’s homes would be completely self-sufficient and could be singularly scattered about on small pockets of land.
“I read about a guy in Toronto who started building little shacks to keep homeless people from freezing to death over the winter during COVID, when shelters were hard to come by,” Garlow says. “Since he started, he’s built more than 200 of them. That really touches on the humanitarian aspect of this, and that’s what it’s about for me.”