A Boy Scout, prisoners and tiny homes: Rebuilding dilapidated lives

Local News

LEHI, Utah (News4Utah) – Tiny homes are popping up all over the country – some choosing to downsize for convenience, others to save space and money. 

In Lehi, a Boy Scout is joining a local nonprofit to help former prison inmates get keys to a tiny home – so they can get a big jump ahead in life. 

“I just kind of love to help people,” said Halsten Thayne, 14, who lives with his mother and father in a sprawling, gorgeous Lehi property. The youngest of 5, Thayne and his brothers have all gone through the Boy Scouts of America program. Each of his brothers has achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, and Thayne is aiming for that, too. 

His Eagle project is based around the idea that everyone deserves a roof over their heads – even those who have had a hard time staying out of trouble. He is working to raise money to build a tiny home for a former prison inmate at risk of recidivism.

For Thayne, the effort hits close to home. 

“We had a loved one that was put in prison, and we saw the needs that he had when he got out of prison,” said Thayne. Those needs included the basics – food, shelter, clothing and connection to healthy people. 

Connections Mark Julkunen had trouble making during his stints in and out of jail. 

“Heroin, cocaine, meth, marijuana…I was ready to throw in the towel,” said Julkunen, 45.

Recently released from prison after being convicted on drug possession charges, Julkunen says he was thrown for a loop when he could not get help from family members after his penultimate stint behind bars. 

“I had burned bridges with my family,” he said. 

Now, 60 days after his latest release, he says he’s ready to take on the world – but it’s been difficult to find affordable housing in Utah County. 

“I would not pass a background check,” he said. 

That’s where Linda Donaldson, co-founder of Fresh Start Ventures comes in. Donaldson, once a short-time inmate herself, understands the feeling of being lost after being released from jail. She said after she and her husband were arrested in 2002 for a financial crime involving their furniture business, close family and friends were able to help them rebuild their lives. 

Others, she said, are not so lucky. 

“That changed my life,” Donaldson said of her arrest. “It completely changed my life.”

Donaldson and her husband David used their fresh start and founded the nonprofit Fresh Start Ventures – to help released inmates get the help they need to stay out of jail. 

A tiny home could be one answer, Donaldson said. 

It’s surprising just how tiny these homes are – 8’x12′ in some instances. Some are on wheels, some can be built on a foundation. Fresh Start’s new family mentor program offers willing families the ability to sponsor a former inmate – after a rigorous background check. If approved by city codes, a tiny home could be built as an outbuilding on someone’s property. 

Tiny homes are cheapter, Donaldson said, running from $30,000 to $70,000 depending on size. Each comes with a bathroom, a sink, a bedroom and a living area – all built in a sleek design. Some may find the homes crammed, but for anyone looking to downsize – or searching for a new lease on life – these tiny dwellings become homes. 

There are roadblocks, still. Some city zoning codes do not allow for tiny homes to be parked or built on an existing property without proper approval and taxation. 

Rent is determined on a sliding scale. Fresh Start helps former inmates find employment so they can pay it. 

“We live within our means, we don’t keep up with the Joneses,” said Stacey Lynn, who lives in a tiny home in Utah. “I don’t feel trapped [financially] with my house.”

Lynn lives with her kids and pets inside the 8’x30’x12′ home on wheels. 

Part of Thayne’s Eagle project will be to set up a booth at the Tiny Home Showcase, which runs from Aug. 23 through Aug. 25 at the Orchard at University Place in Orem. The money will go directly into Fresh Start’s mentor program. Thayne will use some of that money to build the frame of a tiny home, part of his project. That home will house a former inmate. 

The teen, who loves mountain biking and building things, said he’s come to have more sympathy doing the project. 

“We just don’t know what it’s like to be homeless,” he said. “Everyone can help out in their own way.”

For more information on the initiative, click here

To find out more about the Tiny Home Showcase in Orem, click here

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.