Tiny Tuesday: PERCH Gives

November 29 is Giving Tuesday, a global day of charitable giving following the Thanksgiving holiday and shopping days. Here are five causes PERCH supported this year.

Bridges to Prosperity. This organization designs and funds pedestrian bridges in rural communities in countries like Haiti, Panama, and Rwanda. They use local materials and train residents to build each bridge, sometimes with a corps of student and professional volunteers pitching in. The bridges connect people to transportation networks, improving access to markets and helping to relieve rural poverty.

Everybody Wins! “When you read with a child, everybody wins!” Studies show an overwhelming positive correlation between reading and communication, discipline, and critical thinking skills. Everybody Wins! pairs elementary school students with adult mentors who read with them during lunchtime once a week. It’s a big hit; many schools report a waitlist of students who want to enter the program. It operates in 18 states and Washington, DC.

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A reading pair at Everybody Wins! Vermont.

High Fives Foundation. This organization empowers athletes with debilitating injuries to return to the sports they love. High Fives  picks up where health insurance leaves off and guides athletes through the complicated, often emotional process to obtain physical therapy and adaptive equipment. Anyone can apply.

Climate Ride. PERCH contributes to environmental causes to offset the carbon footprint of doing business, which includes printing on paper and car/airplane mileage. Climate Ride participants complete a multi-day journey by bike, and fundraise for their choice of organizations that advocate clean energy, reduce demand, and preserve wild land. (PERCH supported Vote Solar.) Events take place all over the US, year round.

Books for Baton Rouge. An unnamed rainstorm this past summer caused severe flooding in parishes near Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana. The affected communities prioritized returning children to school as fast as possible, and two authors, Alice Fothergill and Tamara Ellis Smith, organized a book benefit to replenish lost school supplies. Contact Phoenix Books to see how you can still participate by donating new and lightly used books. Proceeds from sales of the authors’ books, Another Kind of Hurricane and Children of Katrina, will also provide aid.

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Habitatting

Habitat for Humanity is building a house in East Montpelier. Last fall I tried to contribute to this project as an engineer, but a team of Norwich University students designed the house and I wasn’t needed. Now that it’s under construction, I can lend a hand in a much more literal way.

It’s been more than a year since I last worked on rough framing, and it felt great to lug materials and climb around like a monkey. Even better, I got to test my competency. Head carpenter Chris put me in charge of a roofing crew: a team of five from the Montpelier USDA office who took an outing to join us. Also on site were longtime volunteer Lisa and project manager Bruce.

Our primary task for the day was to install as much tongue-and-groove sheathing as possible atop the scissor trusses that support three quarters of the roof. Chris and Bruce snapped a chalk line on the south side of the gable to get us started. For our first row we aligned each tongue (pointing uphill) with the chalk line. Subsequent rows we pounded into place with a sledgehammer and beater board. While Chris, Bruce, and Lisa puzzled out the geometry of the remaining rafters, the task of the roofing crew was relatively simple.

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Chris and Ben install a rafter in the southeast quadrant of the roof.

But no carpentry task is without pitfalls, and we encountered plenty. The scissor trusses are pretty squirrely on their own, free to sway until the sheathing provides shear strength. So we had to take care when we walked on them, and as we nailed down the sheathing we had to continually straighten the trusses so they’d line up perfectly. Usually we accomplished this task by marking the sheathing two feet on center, measuring periodically from the previous seam. Getting those seams right took some sledgehammer magic, too. When we hit one end in, the other end liked to seesaw out, unless we hit in just the right place or tack-nailed a corner to keep it from sliding.

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Snapping a chalk line to align the remaining sheathing panels.

The USDA team was a delight to work with. Ben actually built many houses while he was in school, and I appreciated his problem-solving intuition and acrobatics. Polly, Megan, Mike, and Ted learned fast, and what they lacked in experience they more than made up for in enthusiasm. Fears were overcome as everyone got up on the roof; the adage “many hands make light work” rang true. By day’s end we had over 90% of the roof sheathed – major progress toward getting the interior dry for the electricians who arrive next week.

(Did you know? The USDA provides rural housing mortgages and renovation loans with super low interest rates! Apply here and see if your income qualifies you.)

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Mike and Megan nail the last panel of the day into place.

Tiny Tuesday: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

One by one, a Los Angeles man is building micro-houses to give to the homeless. One by one, the city is taking them away.

As this NPR story reveals, Elvis Summers has built dozens of 6-foot-by-8-foot dwellings. Each includes solar panels, a camping toilet, wheels, and (perhaps most important for the intended occupants) a lockable door and dry roof. City Hall has deemed the houses a safety hazard and LA sanitation workers have confiscated three of them.

A spokesperson justifies the city’s actions as follows: “These structures, some of the materials that were found in some of them, just the thought of these folks having some of these things in a space so small… it really does put their lives in danger.” Though the spokesperson doesn’t go into detail, I’m imagining things like bare lightbulbs, space heaters, and hot pots, which could start a fire. There’s also the risk of electrocution or suffocation in a confined space.

This is another story where I’ll encourage you to form your own opinion. The city claims to have its citizens’ best interests in mind, but throwing a tiny-house dweller back on the street is hardly in that person’s best interest. Then again, what if the existence of a particularly flammable house puts an entire neighborhood in danger? Can LA find a constructive way to solve the safety problem without prolonging homelessness – perhaps by specifying legal locations to park the houses and working with Mr. Summers to develop a more agreeable design? Or is tiny housing an inappropriate solution entirely?