Pivot Delivers Homes for the Community

Pivot’s project to help build homes for homeless teens takes a comprehensive approach that will give them the skills to give back to the community tenfold

By Molly Fleming

Three young people in Oklahoma City have a new home and an improved outlook on life.

With the help of several construction, architectural, and engineering partners, Pivot, Inc. has finished the first three of 85 new tiny homes on its campus in Oklahoma City.

Pivot, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that was founded to help youth have safe housing and their other basic needs met. Pivot has a 16-bed shelter on its campus that runs at about 92 percent capacity and is licensed by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. But it can only shelter youth ranging in age from 12 to 17 years old. There are two apartment units for youth older than 17 years old.

Many teenagers are in a gap, where they’re too young to go to an adult shelter, and they’re too old to be in the foster care system. In addition, a teenager who is old enough might not be best served in an adult shelter because of developmental delays, or other vulnerabilities, which have onset because of the trauma the youth has endured. That’s why the tiny homes are needed.

Pivot’s work is the first time in the U.S. that this type of housing has been used for homeless teenagers, with wraparound services on the same campus. Other cities have tried it with homeless adults, or a mixed campus with youth and adults.

Homelessness amongst youth is not something specific to Oklahoma. On a single night in 2018, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that there were nearly 40,000 unaccompanied, homeless youth. Of those, 89 percent were between the ages of 18 and 24. The remaining 11 percent were under the age of 18.

Pivot President and CEO Jennifer Goodrich said the homes are helping Pivot deliver two of its main services: housing and personal connections. Those two go hand-in-hand and are vital to helping a young person get their life back on track.

Pivot President and CEO Jennifer Goodrich said the homes are helping Pivot deliver two of its main services: housing and personal connections. Those two go hand-in-hand and are vital to helping a young person get their life back on track.

Having the homes on Pivot’s campus also allows the youth to keep receiving services from the organization, such as therapy, getting back into school, or connecting to a job training program.

Every youth that can get helped at Pivot, that’s another young person that’s not sleeping on the streets, possibly committing a crime to get by, or getting aid from another organization.

“When you’re able to stabilize them, that young person is able to make progress in other areas,” said Melanie Anthony, Pivot’s vice president of development.

One new tiny home resident, Carter, shared that having his own home provided him the stability he needed to get a job. Though he had previously quit attending school, Carter said he’ll graduate high school with honors this December.

Carter said he knows the tiny home is a part of something bigger for the community. Ultimately, the development will have 85 units.

“These first three tiny homes aren’t just about me and the other two teens that will live in them,” Carter said. “It’s about the hundreds of youth that will use them.”

The assurance of having a place to sleep at night is an important step in becoming part of the workforce and adding to the economy. It’s a much better result than a young person becoming another reason a police officer is called out on an early morning, explained Anthony.

She added, “Pivot is hopeful that the data we track toward education and employment outcomes tied to housing stability will show this to be a viable model for other communities. If housing stability is provided, along with a connection to caring adults, education and employment resources, as well as therapeutic care, these young people have a better chance of not becoming homeless adults. Rather, they’ll become a productive member of the economy.”

The tiny homes’ residents will also learn life skills, such as keeping their house clean and paying rent. The youth will sign a lease for their home, which may sound a little restrictive, but this allows the young person to have a rent record – including a reference – for when they move off campus to live independently.

Getting the homes built first started with a $100,000 seed grant from the nonprofit organization, Impact Oklahoma. Then, zoning and real estate attorney David Box and the team at Williams, Box, Forshee and Bullard worked pro bono to get the site rezoned to a planned unit development. According to the city staff report, the rezone was a positive change for the area in terms of development because the site would be denser. The site was previously developed with two non-residential structures that are below the floor-to-area (FAR) ratio range for urban-medium use. The addition of the 85 units makes the FAR closer to the desired UM range.

The project also turned into job training with students from construction-trade programs at local career tech schools working on site. The plan is to get more young people involved with construction so they can see the value of working in the trades.

The construction was overseen by Universal Development Enterprises construction firm owner Marcus Ude, who worked with tiny homes advocate Richard McKown on the project. McKown has developed apartments and condos in downtown Oklahoma City. But he’s also seen the tiny home idea work with underserved populations. His family worked on the 32 tiny homes that were constructed on the Food & Shelter campus in Norman, Oklahoma.

Each Pivot home measures about 280 square feet and was fully furnished when the youth moved into the homes in October.

The project also turned into job training with students from construction-trade programs at local career tech schools working on site. The plan is to get more young people involved with construction so they can see the value of working in the trades. Ude said there’s a shortage in the trade industries, so he’s excited that the young people will get to see this industry first-hand.

“You’ll never apply for a job that you don’t know exists,” he said. “Construction is a path, and it’s lucrative.”

Ude said young people are the best investment the community can make, because looking at it like any other investment, the return in the first 10 years will come back tenfold.

“When we invest in our youth, it makes our city better as a whole,” he said.

Molly Fleming is the national public relations coordinator for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. She previously spent 15 years as a newspaper reporter, having last covered real estate for Oklahoma’s business publication, The Journal Record. She also worked for several community papers in Arkansas, her home state.

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