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Tiny space, big impact: Davenport 'tiny homes' help those battling addiction, crisis
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Tiny space, big impact: Davenport 'tiny homes' help those battling addiction, crisis

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Army veteran Kenny Thrower dreamed one day of hanging an American flag outside a place he could call his own.

On Thursday, Thrower's dream became reality.

After years of battling addiction, the 53-year-old Army veteran now has a new home and chapter to begin a life of sober living.

"I've lived my entire life in total chaos," Thrower said in a video. "This is the most peace I've ever felt in my life. It's going to be nice to be on my own — to be self-sufficient again."

Thrower became one of two graduates of the faith-based nonprofit One Eighty's residential program to move into the first "tiny homes" built in the Quad-Cities for people battling homelessness and addiction.

The nonprofit, with help from a large collaboration of community partners and volunteers, unveiled the newly completed 400-square-foot houses, built back-to-back as a duplex on a narrow lot behind the One Eight Community Center, at 1117 and 1119 W. 7th St. in Davenport.

Thursday's reveal served as the culmination of a seven-year effort to provide stable living to graduates of One Eighty's 14-month residential program, which serves men and women overcoming addictions, poverty and crisis. 

"We are excited to officially open the first two tiny homes that will give two of our graduates greater self-sufficiency," One Eighty Founder and Director Rusty Boruff said.

The first-of-its-kind project in the Quad Cities signals an "important step forward in our community’s efforts to end homelessness and invest in the lives of marginalized people," said Boruff, whose own story of addiction and homelessness inspired him to grow the faith-based nonprofit into an entire city block of buildings for career training, classes, mentoring and more.

"We didn't build these tiny homes ... because we saw it on HGTV and we thought it looked cool," Boruff said. "We built these tiny homes for a very specific purpose" to create longer-term sober and affordable housing options as a way to promote independence and neighborhood stability, utilizing oddly-shaped lots that otherwise would have sat vacant and neglected.

The homes will be rented to Thrower and fellow One Eighty program graduate Matthew Griffin for $300 to $400 a month, including utilities — about half of what they might pay for a one-bedroom apartment, Boruff said.

Boruff said it's his hope the tiny homes would help program graduates from back-sliding into old ways of homelessness, addiction, incarceration or domestic abuse. He said the 14-month program boasted a 90% success rate.

Making the tiny homes a reality, however, presented numerous challenges navigating and securing changes to city zoning codes and ordinances to allow the "tiny home" plans to move forward. And required the nonprofit to pivot from building stand-alone homes for sale to a duplex — two adjoining "tiny homes," one facing north and the other south — for rent.

"We had a lot of hurdles and a lot of red tape to work through to be able to get this project done," Boruff said, who plans to keep growing.

One Eighty owns other property in Davenport that Boruff has said he hopes will be the next "tiny home" location, whether free-standing or another duplex.

Tears welled in Thrower's eyes Thursday as he led his family on a tour and gazed at the American flag flapping in the breeze in front of his new 400-square-foot "tiny home." The flag once flew over the U.S. Capitol and was donated by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, in Thrower's honor, Boruff said.

Thrower said drugs, drinking and "the wrong people" led him down a destructive path from Rock Falls, Ill., to the Quad-Cities.

"A couple of years ago, I had a bad accident and overdosed," he said in a One Eighty video played before the home unveiling. "Had it not been for One Eighty stepping in for me, I would be right back probably to the same life."

Thrower said he was grateful for the community support, volunteers and donations from numerous businesses and civic groups that have given him a new lease on life.

"I never thought something like this would ever happen," he said. "My family has seen me struggle my whole life. Being able to (show them) that I'm in a safe spot now, with good people, it's just exhilarating. They don't have to go to bed at night and wonder what I'm doing in the middle of the night. I'm happy. I'm joyful."

Griffin, 47, who grew up in Rock Island, discovered One Eighty and enrolled in its 14-month program in 2016, after taking himself to rehab.

He graduated from the program in May of 2017, after decades of battling a family history of drug and alcohol addiction, and became One Eighty's maintenance supervisor. Now, he is one of the first residents of the nonprofit's "tiny homes," which include a yard, a front porch, a bathroom, laundry room, family room, kitchen and bedroom.

"I would find years of sobriety and then crash," said Griffin, who said he began using crack cocaine at the age of 16 or 17. "I robbed and stole from a lot of people."

"It's absolutely changed my life," Griffin said of One Eighty. "I've found a peace and serenity here. It's rebuilt my relationships with my family.

"I'd be a dead man walking, in prison or dead," he said, adding One Eighty proves "there's a hope and a future here for anyone."

Streamline Architects designed the homes, and Russell Construction donated general contracting services. Iowa Quad-Cities Rotary, Bettendorf Rotary, Wells Fargo, Scott County Regional Authority and Hubbell-Waterman Foundation provided additional grant funding.

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