The Fight to End Homelessness: Are Shipping Containers the Solution?

11 February 2014 by


homeless shipping containersCreating a home out of shipping containers is the latest architectural trend. We have seen stylish homes and incredibly unique buildings made from discarded or recycled shipping containers, and these buildings have been praised for being more eco-friendly and cost-efficient. So now we ask the question, if using readily available materials such as shipping containers cuts overall costs on building, does this make shipping containers the solution to homelessness?

Well first we have to look into what goes into making a shipping container habitable. A standard shipping container is a 20-by-40-foot steel box made extremely durable for the transport of goods, usually via train or ship. There are thousands of these steel containers lying idle across the world in various ports and shipyards. And although these containers are not in use, you still have to cut a check to buy them and get them transported to the location of your choosing. The cost of a shipping container varies, but is typically in the ballpark of $2,000 to $4,000 and does not include the cost of transportation to the site of your new home.

Even if you happened upon and abandoned shipping container and were able to claim it for your own for free, you cannot simply live in a shipping container as it is. You must obtain a permit for us of the land you will make your home on, excavate the site, create a foundation for the shipping container to be bolted to, cut necessary ventilation and insulation, install an electricity system, plumping system, and heating and cooling system, install flooring, add roofing and rust-preventing paint, add all interior doors, hardware, shelving, windows, as well as furnish it all of which will require professional contractors. The cost of this for an extremely basic shipping container home is tens of thousands of dollars. So, the short answer is, no, shipping containers are not the solution for homelessness.

However, simple shipping container homes can be a great alternative for low-income housing. In London we have seen this idea put into effect with basic shipping container apartments built specifically for at risk youth who make less than minimum wage to live in for about $100 per week.

“We wanted to come up with something that would be affordable on one-third of minimum wage,” said Timothy Pain in a recent Huffington Post article. Pain is the organizer of the low-income shipping container housing idea for youth in London.

Paul Mason of Campbell River, British Columbia proposes a different, more temporary solution to keep the homeless alive overnight, especially during the cold winter or dangerous storms. He proposes a shipping container that can house up to 16 people to be open for just the night and be portable each day so that it can be set up temporarily in a park and then taken away to be cleaned and recharged in the morning. This shipping container solution provides the absolute basic necessities for one night’s survival and can ultimately make a huge impact on the number of homeless people who must be hospitalized and/or jailed for sleeping outside in dangerous conditions. Not only does this create a miserable cycle for the homeless, but it also drains government resources for police and healthcare. This offers a solution that prevents part of this problem.

“Mason says that these temporary homeless relief shelters, a 40-foot shipping container to provide up to 16 homeless people with a temporary roof over their heads on any given winter night, are heated, lit, have reading lamps, smoke detectors, a handicapped accessible washroom, hot water, with two beds in each, an office for two highly trained and caring staff, and would be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to keep people alive. They can bring their belongings, their shopping carts, even their dog. When they leave in the morning they can go over to Radiant Life Church where breakfast is on at 6:30 a.m.”

In Honolulu, city councilman Tom Berg envisions a shipping container housing program for homeless people in which shipping container homes are placed on land zoned for agricultural use and the homeless can live there for five years while working as farmhands on the property.

“There’s modulars. There’s pre-fabricated. There’s even an effort of those who say when the city and county liquidates its buses, why can’t you turn these buses into residential units,” said Berg in a 2011 interview.

These solutions are excellent for taking the first steps toward helping the homeless, but the issue lies in obtaining the initial funding to build the structures in the first place, and although they help give shelter to some for the night, they do not provide a solution to the source of the problem. Shipping containers may be a short-term solution that can be used as low-income housing options, but they are not, ultimately, the solution to the end of homelessness.

What do you think? Are shipping containers a good way to help the homeless? How long do you think these homes will act as a solution before we need to do something else? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

SSF Team

SSF Team

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