Watch CBS News

Tulane students design, build tiny home for man who didn't have one for nearly two decades: "So grateful"

Students build tiny home for man in need
Tulane students build tiny home for man who has been homeless for nearly two decades 06:55

Before finishing school this past semester, students at Tulane University completed one final project. They designed, created and built a tiny 440-square-foot home to benefit someone in their community who hasn't had a place to call home in nearly two decades.

Benjamin Henry used to live under Interstate 10, which runs right through the heart of New Orleans. He said that his story is one of bad decisions involving drugs and alcohol.

"Sometimes you have to go through some things awhile to see how bad you really want it better, you have to see how bad you really want it," Henry said. "But if you hang in there, hang in there and keep hope, things are possible for you. Now look where I am. I'm about to get a home, not a place just to lay my head, but a home."

For nearly 10 months, the students worked to build Henry's piece of paradise as part of their assignment for the UrbanBuild program at Tulane.

"It's gotten even more personal as we've found out that this is gonna go to someone," said student Noah Lion.

Students at Tulane University design and build a tiny house for a man in need in their community. CBS News

Each student had to submit a design for the home. A team of professional architects came in and chose one of the designs.

Lion's design was picked. He said he was passionate about the porch section of the design.

"It's really important in New Orleans to spend time on your porch -- to spend time in the community, with your neighbors and that was really important to me to make the porch part of the living space," Lion said.

The team assembled the structure inside a warehouse owned by Tulane. From there it was disassembled and moved to where it would reside in the hurricane-ravaged, then rebuilt Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

The students didn't know who would get the house until the very end of the project. 

"A lot of architectural education doesn't give you like a real client or a real person at the end of the project, but to be able to like meet somebody who's going to live in your space -- and experience what you've worked on is just kind of this really, I think, rewarding moment that's gonna serve all of us incredibly well going forward," said student Brendan Cook.

For Henry, it's not only a new chapter in his life but also the best.

"I want everybody to know that as long as you have hope… as long as you hang in there, there's gonna be some breakthrough. And I'm having my breakthrough right now. Hallelujah," he said.

Benjamin Henry stands in front of his new home, built by Tulane University students. CBS News

Tulane worked with the Travelers Aid Society of Greater New Orleans to help identify Henry as a candidate for this home.

"They work to help get people off the streets and have had Mr. Henry in temporary housing for years. There aren't many opportunities for permanent housing and Tulane wants to continue working with this group to build more homes like this one in the years to come," the university said in a statement.

Henry was emotional when he thanked the future architects from Tulane.

"Good design and good architecture can be affordable and accessible to everyone. And it should be," said student Sarah Fisher.

The students showed Henry where everything in the home was, but it was all of the small things that mattered most.

"Now I got air. I got space. I love this. This is where I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die in this home. I'm so grateful," he said to the students. "And man to you Lord, thank you all."

At just 440 square feet, it's the smallest house students with UrbanBuild have ever built, but it's likely to leave a big impact on everyone involved.

"Being able to watch him walk over that threshold that was just a hole in the ground a month ago is unbelievable," said student Elliot Slovis. "Building someone's forever home is crazy and so rewarding."

Henry said he still can't fathom that he has a home of his own.

"It's starting to come through. That's why I was crying because I know and… it's real, you know? I thank you. Thank you."

Tulane University students with Benjamin Henry in front of the home they designed and built for him. CBS News
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.