Raelene’s Tiny House Recycling Community

Denver VOICE vendor Raelene Johnson dreams of combining tiny houses and recycling centers to create fully sustainable rehabilitation communities.

By Raelene Johnson  |  Illustration by Ross Evertson


Illustration by Ross EvertsonYou have to build people up. Most who have been on the streets for a long amount of time are so unsure of themselves, so broken. You can’t just take them off the streets and put them in an apartment and say, “Now go make a living.” If no time and resources are invested into these people, they fail.

We need people who understand where people on the streets are coming from; lost people who have gotten themselves back to life are the best ones to help others.

I have a proposal for a homeless community that uses tiny houses and dumpster diving to recycle merchandise and human lives. We can recycle people by giving them the chance to make money and save for homes of their own.

First you need to have land so you can house the homeless, get them back to health, and get them rested. On that land, you need to build tiny houses—tiny houses can be built more quickly and more cheaply than an apartment building. There needs to be space for gardens on the land. In the middle of the property, you have a big, central house with a kitchen, a nurse, and resources like a methadone clinic and counselors to help fix people’s minds. On the land there also needs to be a building for a recycling processing center and a building for a thrift store. 

There must be rules for people in the community to follow, and people must follow these rules. First and foremost, no alcohol or illegal drugs. Any medications prescribed by doctors or counselors must be taken, and everyone in the community must get a mental health evaluation. All staff members in the central house must be respected. No weapons will be allowed. If people don’t follow the rules, they’re out, because they are taking up spots that could be filled by others who want to change their lives. 

Once the community has been built, then you start to give people in the community jobs through dumpster diving. Everyone must work in the community or be on disability. 

The recycling community will create many different kinds of jobs. First, you need the people who will go through the dumpsters and salvage all the goods—they are called the dumpster divers. They can mostly use bikes and carts to collect items, but you will need to have some trucks too, and drivers. 

Back at the community, you will need people to sort and then clean and process everything. First, the sorters will do their job in the recycling center. They will sort between base materials and items to be cleaned and resold, and get items to the right processors. In this next type of job, different groups will process materials like copper, aluminum, cast aluminum, and the clothes and other items—toys, household goods, jewelry, more things than I can name here now—that can be cleaned and sold in the community thrift store. You will get so much out of the dumpsters that you can open thrift stores. In the stores, you will need retail employees to sell and stock goods. 

The metals will be sold to a scrap yard. Toys will need to be cleaned and sterilized. Clothes will need to be washed and dried, etc. 

The thrift store and scrap yard money can pay the community’s different employees and help support the whole community. The store will bring lots of money in, so the workers could get good wages ($15 an hour) after rent, bills, water, and anything else. A portion of people’s paychecks will be put into savings accounts for them. Any money that is leftover can go to buying more land to start another community. We could start with a community for singles, but eventually build tiny homes for single parents or families. These communities could have daycares.

Every six months, there will be an assessment of people in the program to see how they are doing. After one year, if they are doing well in therapy, participating in programs, and saving their money, then their doctors and therapists can sign off on their progress. Someone in the program can graduate in as little in one year, but they have to graduate after three years. If they haven’t made any progress after three years, their spots should go to other people. Of course, people can leave at any time if they don’t like the community. 

People need love and step-by-step guidance until the day they no longer need help. You need people who have overcome their pasts and now want to be an inspiration to others. Look at me; if I can do it, you can too. ■