City of Los Angeles Agrees to Return Tiny Homes Built for the Homeless: 'There's Still Hope,' Says Project Founder
04/27/2016 AT 04:40 PM EDT
In February, city sanitation workers seized three of the modest wooden structures built as temporary housing for the homeless. Last week, the city said those structures would be returned.
Elvis Summers, who has built and distributed 37 tiny houses for the homeless over the past year, called the news that the houses would be returned "indescribable."
He says he told the houses previous occupants, who had been forced to resume sleeping on the street, as soon as he heard.
"I told them before I told anybody," Summers, 38, tells PEOPLE. "A couple of people collapsed crying, some of them jumped and cheered."
The work is far from finished, however. Summers is still seeking a number of vacant lots where the tiny houses could form "villages," with laundry, bathrooms and community gardens. He says he views these villages as a temporary stop between homelessness and more stable housing.
"Having their own address and their own safe space will give people the tools they need to access services like job counseling or help with drug addictions," he explains. "We need to get these people off the streets until more permanent housing becomes available."
While Summers has generated massive public support for his project, which has raised over $100,000 through crowdfunding, the city government has been less enthusiastic. In August, the Los Angeles City Council declared that the structures were unsuitable for human habitation, thus clearing a pathway for the houses' removal.
Despite the city's resistance, Summers says he plans to build more tiny homes and will continue looking for space where they can legally remain.
"There are people suffering on the street and they need somewhere to go tonight," he says. "It's very gratifying that I can tell people that there's still hope for them."