Damian Dovarganes/AP PhotoElvis Summers, 38, met Irene McGhee, 60, last September when she appeared at his Los Angeles apartment building looking for cans and bottles to recycle. As they chatted, Irene, who is also known as Smokie, revealed that she had been homeless since her husband died about a decade ago. Elvis was moved to help.
“I couldn’t ignore human suffering right next to me,” he says.
Elvis had read about the tiny-house movement, in which people construct homes measuring 500 square feet or fewer, and believed he had the construction know-how to fashion a similar structure for Smokie.
He spent $500 on building supplies and, in five days, built a 3.5-by-8-foot house, complete with a locking door and side window, at the curb in front of his apartment. The tiny house, which Elvis furnished with a mattress, pillows, and a blanket, sits on wheels so it can be moved every 72 hours to comply with city law. The finishing touch, a sign reading Home Sweet Home, hangs from one of the cedar clapboard walls, donated along with roof shingles by a local business.
On the first night in her new home, Smokie “felt so relaxed, I think I must have slept half the day,” she told a local news station.
In April, Elvis posted on YouTube a video of the house as it was being built, racking up six million views in four days. He began fund-raising online to build more tiny houses for the needy, and in a month, he had accrued more than $80,000.
With the funds he has raised, he’s building several more houses, including one for a homeless elderly handicapped man and his dog. Eventually, Elvis wants to hire homeless people to help with construction, and he already has his first employee lined up: Smokie. “I’m ready to start building,” she says.