North County family lets people in transition live in backyard tipi

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CARLSBAD, Calif. — A North County family has been letting people from around the world live rent-free in a tipi they built in their backyard.

Joe Cole lives with his wife and four sons in a 700-square-foot house. But the small house comes with a big surprise in the back: a large tipi.

It was erected about five years ago as an out-of-the-box solution for a couple they had befriended from Camp Pendleton. At the time, that couple was in the process of transitioning out of military life.

“They were doing that transition in the throes of paying rent, and utilities, and laundry, and bills, and just life. So we thought, ‘What if we could give them a whole year where we could take rent and bills away from them?” Cole said.

They built the tipi with the help of some friends and the couple lived there for a year. After they moved out, Cole said the family wanted to keep the tipi idea going.

“I think when you go into the tipi something moves you a little bit,” Cole said. “There’s a lot of art that’s been created in there, a lot of music has been played in there. There’s been a lot of tears that have been shed in there — sorrow in the tipi. It’s just a really spiritual space.”

For the past several years, the Coles have allowed people to live in the tipi rent-free for a year at a time to let them evaluate their next steps in life while living in the community.

“There was a guy named Isaac and he was from New Hampshire; a super cool dude named Rusty, and he was from Georgia; and Lilliana was from Mozambique,” Cole said.

However, after years of being exposed to the elements, the tipi is now in need of repairs. The family has started a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $6,500.

“We need to redo the deck, and we need to redo the canvas, and we want to do a few other functional things inside the space,” Cole said.

Their goal is to keep the tipi going for years to come.

But the Coles say they have one other goal in mind: “Change the world maybe!” Cole said. “And maybe just change our neighborhood, maybe just change a little piece of Carlsbad. Or, as we send people back out in the world that have lived in the tipi, maybe they do something similar and that continues to change their little neighborhood. And so maybe — maybe — change the world eventually.”

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