man builds tiny home for homeless woman
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
March 23, 2024 ·  5 min read

Man Builds a Tiny Home for a Homeless Woman, Starts a Nonprofit to Help Others

Many people turn a blind eye to the homeless. They may pass the same individuals on the corner on the way to work every morning. Sometimes they’ll hand them a few coins or a bit of food, but other times, they pretend those individuals aren’t even there.

Elvis Summers saw a 60-year-old homeless woman called Smokie almost every day. But he didn’t turn a blind eye. Instead, he built her a home. 

“She was sleeping in the dirt…” 

Irene “Smokie” McGee had been sleeping on the ground close to where Elvis lived. Often, she knocked on his door to ask for recyclables. These little interactions bloomed a friendship between them.  

Although people in the neighborhood were generally kind to her, they seemed to stop caring come nightfall. Elvis assumed she had a box or kind of protection to sleep in but she didn’t. She was sleeping in the dirt every night since her husband died in 2004. She didn’t have enough money to keep her home.  

“I started asking more questions about her to see what her story was,” said Summers. “I learned she didn’t have anything, not even a cardboard box. She was literally sleeping in the dirt and I just wanted to make her a place where she could feel comfortable and at least get a good night’s sleep.”

Building a tiny home for Smokie 

One morning in 2015, Elvis read a news article about a man in Oakland who builds little houses out of leftover materials. Inspired, Elvis procrastinated paying a few bills in order to buy the hardware and lumber for Smokie’s new shelter. It cost about $500.  

After five days of hard labor, the shelter was complete, and Smokie was able to move into a home for the first time in ten years. 

“I had nowhere to really build it, so I just built it in the street outside of my apartment,” he told Good News Network. “The local LAPD cops have been super cool, and have told me they support it—as long as we move it to a different spot every 72 hours.” 

He created a time-lapse video of the construction of the home. The features included sturdy wheels for easy transportation, a wide window, two locks on the door, and a home sweet home sign that Smokie hung herself. [1] 

“I feel marvelous,” she said to ABC News. “You can’t even explain how I feel. I’m on my way to a different life. I want to get my own place and all of that. He’s my guardian angel.”

“He’s one in a million.” [2] 

In the video, he explained that as he built, people driving by asked how much he was charging for rent. One man in particular said, “I just see profit man.” In the captions of the video, Elvis writes, “A mother is sleeping in the dirt, and all some people can think of is profit…” 

The beginning of The Tiny House Project, a nonprofit helping homeless people 

This was the first video among many on his YouTube channel, The Tiny House Project, where he builds homes and advocates for homeless people in Los Angeles, California. With Smokie’s home being his first posted video, she was the inspiration behind all of his good work that followed.  

“I’ve met so many homeless people, good people,” Elvis said in an email. “Since I built Smokie’s, I’ve had several people ask me to make them a tiny home and it’s turned into much more than just the one house I wanted to build.” [3]  

Sadly, Smokie passed away in November 2016, but her legacy continues. Her inspiring Summers has helped many more homeless people in LA. Hopefully, the Tiny House Project nonprofit organization will create ripples of inspiration to those who hear of its cause. [4] 

Helping the homeless population 

Summers admits that a tiny home is a temporary fix, but it’s a hopeful first step. Perhaps learning about the stories of people living on the streets can inspire others to be proactive. For them, a roof over their head can be extraordinarily helpful. The thing that most people take for granted, shelter, can make the world of a difference. 

“I just wanted to do something nice for Smokie,” he said. “That was just the start and the end of my plan. I had no idea this was going to explode. The goal is to find some land vacant land to not only build more but to temporary place them so these people can build themselves back up and reintegrate into society.”  

On the Tiny House Project Organization’s website, they emphasize that many homeless people are in a life and death situation without the proper resources needed to survive.  They write, “Once a person loses a stable place to live and becomes ‘homeless’, society has adopted a policy of judgment, cruelty, ex-communication, and prejudice towards them, which pushes a person down even further and psychologically leaves them in ruins.” 

Check out their website if you’re interested in volunteering or donating to the Tiny House Project

Keep Reading: A homeless Detroit man bought an abandoned house for $1,500 and spent 10 years renovating it for his wife. Here’s how he did it — and what it looks like now


  1. [1] “SEE IT: Los Angeles man builds tiny house for homeless woman, plans more of them.” Lee Moran. “SEE IT: Los Angeles man builds tiny house for homeless woman, plans more of them.” Lee Moran. New York Daily News. April 30, 2015aily News. April 30, 2015 
  2. [2] “California Man Selflessly Builds Miniature House for Homeless Woman.” Nicole Pelletiere. ABC News. May 5, 2015 
  3. [3] “Man Builds Tiny House for Homeless Woman Sleeping in the Dirt (WATCH).” Good News Network. April 27, 2015 
  4. [4] “Man Builds A Tiny Home For Homeless Woman Sleeping Outside His House.” Kirsten Spruch. Shareably. May 18, 2020