Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Mad Housers

The Mad Housers is a non-profit organization with a primary focus on building and providing “temporary, emergency shelters” for the homeless. 

They are addressing a “narrow slice of the homeless pie” – meaning only people who are “capable of living on their own and gathering the resources needed to survive.” The rationale for providing such a service is that “if a person has a secure space from which to operate, they are much more capable of finding resources to help themselves.”

Here is a look at the shelters they build:

"Low Rider" (4' x 8' x 4')
w/ storage unit (4' x 4' x 4')

"Hut" (6' x 8' x 10')


The "Hut" has a gabled roof, sleeping loft, locking door, and wood burning stove.  The "Low Rider" is a less visible alternative. Each unit costs about $400 (90% of which is the cost of lumber) and requires 50 person hours.  The Mad Houser website provides a materials and cut guide, blueprints, and assembly instructions for both models, which enables anyone to build these shelters.


So, you might wonder, how they find the sites to put these things and who are the clients that get them?  Their answer: “The clients are at the sites.”  The best indicator for a good site is homeless people – meaning that “if it’s a really good place to stay, chances are, someone’s staying there.”


A good site must have two characteristics: proximity and privacy.  “Proximity means that site residents are within walking distance of necessary resources such as clean water, public transportation, grocery stores, etc. Privacy means that the site will remain unmolested. That usually means staying out of sight.”

The Madhousers suggest answering these questions when determining the potential for a good site:
  • How long have you been here? If it's been awhile, that's a good sign. Like the best indicator of future wealth is current wealth, the best indicator of a camp's future longevity is it's longevity.
  • Do other folks know you're here? This is quite likely. If the neighbors know and don't mind, if the landowner knows and doesn't mind, then the camp is golden. Same with cops; they usually won't break up a camp unless there are complaints.
  • Is someone in charge? In a group situation, there's usually a person who's the leader. It's not necessarily an explicit leadership role, where someone is the boss - sometimes it's simply a respect member of the camp whose opinion is always listened to. These folks give the ultimate blessing on what happens in the camp, and should be consulted. 
The purpose of this is not to say that some deserve shelter more than others, but instead to find sites that have “long-term viability.” 

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