Popping Up Everywhere! Major U.S. Cities' Using THIS Solution To Combat Homeless Crisis

By Lisa Pelgin | Saturday, 15 June 2024 08:45 AM
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Image Credit : Photo by Getty Images

In the heart of downtown Atlanta, a once desolate parking lot has been transformed into a vibrant micro community, providing shelter and a sense of belonging to individuals who were previously homeless.

The innovative housing solution, known as "The Melody," is made up of repurposed shipping containers, now serving as cozy studio apartments for its residents.

According to ABC News, the once dreary parking lot has been revitalized with artificial turf, potted plants, and even a dog park. The shipping containers have been converted into 40 insulated studio apartments, each equipped with a bed, HVAC unit, desk, microwave, small refrigerator, TV, sink, and bathroom.

Cynthia Diamond, a 61-year-old former line cook who was once chronically homeless, expressed her gratitude for her new home. "I’m just so grateful. I have my own door key. I ain't got to worry about nobody knocking on my door, telling me when to eat, sleep or do anything. I’m going to stay here as long as the Lord allows me to stay here,” she said.

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In the face of escalating homelessness rates and ineffective solutions, city officials across the U.S. are turning to rapid housing options that emphasize three key factors: small, quick, and cheap. These micro communities, unlike traditional shelters, provide stability and, when coupled with comprehensive services, can more effectively guide residents towards secure housing.

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Denver has already launched three micro communities and converted five hotels to accommodate individuals who were previously homeless. Austin, Texas, boasts three villages of "tiny homes," while Los Angeles has a 232-unit complex made up of stacked shipping containers.

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Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, who has been instrumental in the city's new micro community initiative, likened housing to a ladder. “Folks that are literally sleeping on the ground aren't even on the first rung,” he said. The city's micro communities offer that crucial first rung, providing tiny, transitional homes for those in need.

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City data reveals that over 1,500 people have been moved indoors through the program, with over 80% still in the housing as of last month. These cost-effective units are particularly beneficial for cities with high housing costs, where transitioning such a large number of people directly into apartments would not be financially viable.

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Both Atlanta's and Denver's programs serve as stepping stones, aiming to secure employment and more permanent housing for their residents. Denver's goal is to transition people out within six months.

Eric Martinez, a 28-year-old who has spent most of his life oscillating between the street and the bottom rung, is one of the individuals benefiting from this program. Born into the foster care system, Martinez has grappled with substance use while couch surfing and living in tents.

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“It’s kind of demeaning, it makes me feel less of a person,” Martinez confessed. “I had to get out of it and look out for myself at that point: It’s fight or flight, and I flew.”

Martinez's encampment in Denver was cleared, and he, along with others, were directed into the micro communities. The city built three such communities, housing nearly 160 units in total, in about six months. The cost per unit was approximately $25,000, according to Mayor Johnston.

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The micro communities are equipped with bathrooms, showers, washing machines, small dog parks, and kitchens. Meals are provided by the Salvation Army.

This program marks a significant shift from policies that previously focused on short-term group shelters and the constant relocation of encampments. The old system made it challenging to keep individuals connected to services and on track towards permanent housing.

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In contrast, Denver's and Atlanta's micro communities centralize these services. They offer residents case management, counseling, mental health and substance abuse therapy, housing guidance, and assistance with everything from vocational skills training to obtaining dentures.

Peter Cumiskey, the Atlanta site clinician, believes that these micro communities can meet every level of the hierarchy of needs, from security and shelter to self-actualization and community.

Michael Rich, an Emory University political science professor who studies housing policy, views The Melody and similar projects as a "very promising, feasible and cost-effective way" to address homelessness. However, he notes that transitional housing is just the first step towards permanent housing.

The programs in Denver and Atlanta, inspired by similar initiatives in cities like Columbia, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, offer a level of privacy and security not found in traditional shelters or encampments.

Cathryn Vassell, whose nonprofit, Partners For Home, oversees The Melody, acknowledges that it's unclear how long the containers will last. However, she believes they were the right choice for The Melody due to their relative affordability and the fact that many were already equipped with handicap-accessible bathrooms, having been used by Georgia hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Melody is just the beginning of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens' ambitious plan to provide 500 units of rapid housing on city-owned land by December 2025. Courtney English, the mayor's chief policy officer, emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating, “We need more Melodies as fast as possible.”

Despite the success of The Melody, city officials anticipate local pushback as they seek to expand the rapid-housing footprint. Denver faced similar resistance, with Mayor Johnston attending at least 60 town halls in six months to address residents' concerns about trash and safety.

For residents like Martinez, the micro community has been a source of support and upliftment. Despite the scars of life on the street, he feels secure in his tiny home alongside his cat, Appa. He is now looking forward to a job orientation and working with staff to secure a housing voucher for an apartment.

“I’m always looking down on myself for some reason,” he admitted. But “I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job. Everyone is pretty proud of me.”

This innovative approach to addressing homelessness, as seen in Atlanta and Denver, offers a glimmer of hope for those struggling on the streets. By providing not just shelter, but also a sense of community and a pathway to permanent housing, these micro communities are changing lives, one shipping container at a time.

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