San Francisco’s first tiny home village for homeless people opens. At $15,000 a pop, city says it’s cost-effective

Bauer has been homeless for 30 years, since he left Illinois at age 17. He’s one of 30 men and women to be promoted from a tent city on the city-leased lot into the tiny structures where they can live for at least a year. Eventually the site will hold 70 units in modular duplexes.

The lot at 33 Gough St., between Market and Mission streets, has been used since December 2020 as a city-sanctioned “safe sleeping village,” holding 44 tents for homeless people.

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Elizabeth Funk, 52, is founder and executive chairmanof DignityMoves, a nonprofit that emerged during the pandemic to address the crisis on the streets. In less than a year, she has raised $2 million to construct a total of 70 rooms in duplexes of prefabricated panels assembled on steel frame foundations with insulation and electrical outlets. The site will have improved bathrooms, storage spaces and a dining area.

The cabins, along with the dining and other facilities, will be paid for by DignityMoves and the nonprofit Tipping Point Community as part of a pilot program. The cost is around $15,000 to build each unit, but adding in amenities like the two dining halls, restrooms, a computer and landscaping, it totals $30,000 per unit. The city will pay for the meal service, security and supportive services.

The city has been spending about $60,000 per tent for safe sleeping villages, including food, security and supportive services.

Known as the DignityMoves Village, the site is San Francisco’s first experiment with tiny homes, an approach to homelessness that’s been used in Oakland, San Jose and other Bay Area cities.

The first 12 residents have moved into the rooms decorated by volunteers with homey touches like fleece blankets, artwork, throw pillows, toiletry baskets and welcome notes.

“A lot of the residents have been incarcerated where everything is exactly the same, so they really appreciate the individual touch,” Funk said.

San Francisco’s first tiny home village for homeless people opens. At ,000 a pop, city says it’s cost-effective

By the time the village is completed this spring, it will have the 70 rooms and two dining halls with three meals a day provided by nonprofit Mother Brown. The nonprofit Urban Alchemy will provide on-site security and supportive services.

The land belongs to a private developer awaiting construction permits for permanent housing. The city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing is leasing it until at least March 2023, with possible extensions.

Shireen McSpadden, director of DHSH, told The Chronicle in September that if the pilot project is a success, the department “might want to replicate it into other parts of the city.”

Everyone who has been living in a tent on the site for a year has been offered a room. Nobody turned it down.

“They said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” said Everett Butler, co-director of Urban Alchemy. “They were beyond appreciative to be able to go inside their own space and lock the door behind them, turn the heaters on and kick back.”

A sister village is being built in Santa Barbara with a separate budget of $1.8 million, and more are being contemplated around the state.

“It’s not a place you would stay forever, but is a stopover while people figure out a way out of homelessness,” said Funk, a Stanford graduate who runs an impact investing fund. Her donor base comes from her own contact list, along with foundations. Dignity Health is a major donor, though the name is coincidental.

“This is not an alternative to permanent housing,” Funk said, “but it is an attractive alternative for people who are hesitant to go to group shelters.”

Still it will take getting used to. Ryan “Nobody” Bauer has been sleeping upright in a chair for so long, he has been having trouble sleeping while reclining.

“I have to get used to sleeping on a mattress,” he said, “but it’s a lot better than average. I was cold last night and turned on the heater and wow.”

Sam Whiting is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @samwhitingsf