Los Angeles Man Who Built Tiny House for Homeless Neighbor: 'It Really Opened Things Up for Her Again'
Ever since Elvis Summers’s good deed – building a tiny house for his homeless neighbor Smokie – went viral, his life has been “nothing but chaos.”
That one good deed has transformed into his life’s work virtually overnight. “[If] I have to do it singlehandedly ’til it’s done – building one tiny house at a time until there’s no more homelessness – then that’s what I’ll do,” Summers tells PEOPLE.
Since raising over $80,000 on GoFundMe, the Los Angeles man has been working seven days a week to build a movement (and of course, more houses).
On Monday, he’ll complete a slightly bigger tiny house for a homeless man named Lorenzo and his three dogs.
“He’s an older guy, he’s been homeless for a long time, and he doesn t make enough money to pay for a place and nobody wants to rent to him because he’s homeless,” he says.
“He rescued three dogs off the street that people tried to throw away – so he’s got three wonderful dogs and I’m building them all a house.”
Once this is completed he’ll shift his focus to a more ambitious projects – launching his non-profit and organizing a public build where the community can come together and construct multiple houses in one day.
“So many people say they want to get involved and they want to help so I’m going to put it all together,” he says. “Anybody that wants to volunteer and be a part of it can come down and build the houses with me.”
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He has also been documenting his time spent getting to know L.A.’s homeless community in a series of YouTube videos he hopes will put a human face on a national crisis.
“When I make it personal and get to know these people and help tell their stories, it brings that missing component,” he says. “It kind of helps open eyes so it’s not the bum or that dude, it’s like Josh, he’s an actual person and he used to be a chef.”
Summers says oftentimes when people give money or food to the homeless, they don t stop to talk with them or even look them in the eye. “I think it’s even more hurtful than the homeless person asking realizes because there’s a psychological component to it,” Summers says.
“They’re human beings just like anybody else and I simply tell people, ‘The next time you run into someone who’s homeless or asking for money, take three minutes and stop and talk to them.’ ”
If his friendship with Smokie has taught him anything, it’s that knowing others care can be transformational. After 10 years of living on the street, Summers says Smokie was “ready to give up.”
Recently, when Summers ordered a copy of Smokie’s birth certificate so that she could get an ID, Smokie discovered she was a year older than she had thought.
When you’re homeless, Summers says “no one’s calling you to say happy birthday and you don t have a Facebook to check to see all the people that left you comments. So after years and years of that with no specific timeline to be anywhere or be anybody or do anything, it’s very easy to lose track of time.”
Now that Smokie has been able to sleep through the night for the first time in years, a world of possibilities has emerged.
“This morning I just set up her own fan page and I was showing her all the messages and notes and support that people have passed along to her and I think it just really opened things up for her again,” Summers says. “She’s starting to say ‘I want to go to school, I want to work, I really want to get a place.’ ”