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Building tiny houses a big help for the homeless

Irene “Smokie” McGhee, a woman who had been sleeping on the streets in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, sits in the doorway of her tiny home May 7. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Irene “Smokie” McGhee, a woman who had been sleeping on the streets in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, sits in the doorway of her tiny home May 7. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES – Shortly after Elvis Summers befriended Irene McGhee, he learned she was sleeping on the streets of South Los Angeles.

So the man with the blue mohawk and wraparound shades decided to build the grandmother nicknamed “Smokie” a tiny house on wheels. Summers estimates he spent less than $500 on plywood, shingles, a window and a door for the 8-foot-long structure that can be moved around by one person.

It turned out so well that Summers launched a crowdfunding campaign to construct similar shelters for other homeless people in his neighborhood. He had no grand ambitions beyond lending a helping hand in a city with thousands of residents without roofs over their heads.

“Honestly, I thought I’d raise enough money to help a dozen people, call it a day and then go back to stressing about my job,” said the 38-year-old, who runs an online apparel store.

Summers never thought more than 5.6 million people would watch a YouTube video of him constructing the house for McGhee, who’s been homeless for more than a decade. It ends with McGhee doing a little jig and hanging up a “Home Sweet Home” sign.

The GoFundMe campaign – called Tiny House, Huge Purpose – has brought in nearly $60,000 in less than a month. And Summers’ inbox is overflowing with offers for help from carpenters, homeless advocates, retirees and children as young as 6.

Summers suddenly considers himself a man with a mission. He has started a nonprofit and reached out to Los Angeles officials to get the city involved in his plan to build more tiny homes for transients.

“People are calling it a movement,” he said. “I’m humbled. But now I can’t turn my back on it.”

Builders said they would donate materials, contractors offered to help in the design of the small, wheeled structures, and chefs said they would bring food to the construction sites.

Summers said he wants to hire homeless people to help with the construction. McGhee, 61, said she would be the first person to sign up.

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