5 solutions for America’s homeless crisis


Sarah Jameson | Wealth of Geeks

The alarming gap between low incomes and high housing costs underscores an urgent need for creative, scalable, and sustainable housing solutions.

Responding to the need, philanthropists and entrepreneurs are busy developing innovative housing options. Many of these solutions promise shelter and a sense of dignity and community to those who need it most.

The root cause of homelessness isn’t necessarily the inability to pay for housing; it originates from the inability to locate affordable housing.

Creative solutions are available, but many are impractical or unaffordable. Consider five opportunities …

1. Tiny house villages

Tiny house villages are emerging as a promising, cost-effective solution to homelessness.

These communities consist of individual units equipped with essential amenities like a bed, a kitchenette, and a bathroom.

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Eden Village, a Missouri non-profit organization, emphasizes the high demand for affordable housing. To qualify for residency in its tiny home community, applicants must be chronically homeless, have a disabling condition, and be able to pay $300 each month for rent and utilities.

Cities like Seattle have embraced the cost-efficient tiny home model. Units in tiny house villages represent about 12.5% of all shelter beds and safe places supported by the city. However, they comprise less than 3% of its total homelessness response investments. Construction of the villages takes less than six months.

2. Micro apartments

In densely populated cities where space is a premium, micro apartments, or “micro-units,” are gaining traction.

These modular living spaces, typically less than 400 square feet, often come fully furnished. Micro apartments maximize the utility of limited urban space. Their location often provides easy access to public transportation and job opportunities.

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San Francisco firm Panoramic Interests designed a self-contained, stackable tiny apartment. Its MicroPAD modular homes boast a total floor space of just 160 square feet, including a kitchenette, sleeping area, and bathroom. The popular solution now includes 15 projects and more than 1,000 housing units.

Micro-apartments still have their challenges. Zoning laws in some cities have been a roadblock to their widespread adoption.

Despite obstacles, micro apartments represent a viable solution for single adults who need quick access to housing without the burden of high rent.

3. Shipping container housing

Repurposing shipping containers into livable spaces is an innovative approach to homelessness. The containers are durable, easy to modify, and relatively inexpensive to erect.

Cities including Los Angeles have transformed steel boxes into homes with insulation, plumbing, and other modern amenities.

Shipping container homes are cost-efficient to construct, and they meet urgent demands. The containers are converted into apartments off-site. That way, work can begin while laying the foundation and building a framework.

Confined living space represents the primary limitation of shipping container housing. It’s less than ideal for families with children, but the structures remain viable options for single adults or couples needing quick and affordable housing solutions.

4. 3D Printed Homes

The advent of 3D printing technology has opened new avenues in housing.

ICON, a firm in Austin, Texas, designed a 3D printer that creates entire homes in 24 hours.

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These homes are quick to construct, and they require fewer raw materials, reducing  both construction time and overall costs. The technology’s custom designs even cater to specific needs and preferences.

After showcasing its first 3D-printed home, ICON constructed a 3D-printed village serving the Austin-area homeless population. The Community First! Village features a cluster of 400-square-foot, one-bedroom houses made with the company’s second-generation printer.

The technology needed to construct these homes is still emerging, and may face regulatory challenges in the future, but that hasn’t stopped communities from adopting the solution. Despite potential hurdles, 3D-printed homes offer a futuristic solution to a longstanding problem.

5. Metal buildings

About 40% of America’s homeless are on the street each night. Opening additional homeless shelters provides immediate relief. Unfortunately, constructing such facilities generally requires substantial investments of time and money.

While initially designed for industrial use, metal buildings offer a more affordable and less time-consuming solution.

These structures can be repurposed into shelters. Metal buildings are durable and less expensive than traditional housing options. Considering steel buildings boast a lifespan of 50 to 100 years, the potential for a significant return on investment can’t be ignored.

One 23,000-square-foot shelter in San Francisco offers 200 beds plus additional community spaces.

Steel buildings can serve as community homeless shelters, but they also can be partitioned into affordable housing units. With proper insulation and interior modifications, these structures can be transformed into warm, inviting homes.

Crisis by numbers

  • According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,  582,500 people in the United States face the harsh reality of homelessness every night.
  • The Journal of Adolescent Health paints a grimmer picture. Children and youth are considered homeless if they lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. By that measure, one in every 30 adolescents aged 13-17 experience homelessness each year. Likewise, about a third of the U.S. homeless population comprises families with children.
  • HUD’s 2022 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress reveals that 28% of this vulnerable population comprises families with children.
  • The issue is not confined to urban settings. Rural areas report a 6% increase in homelessness since 2020, indicating a nationwide crisis.
  • The situation has reached a tipping point. With winter approaching, it demands both immediate attention and innovative solutions. Traditional shelters, after all, are bursting at the seams. Only 60% of the nation’s homeless spend their nights in shelters.
  • Meanwhile, affordable housing has become a rare commodity. Without a viable remedy, it promises a larger homeless population in the future. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports a shortage of 7.3 million rental homes that are affordable and available to extremely low-income renters.

This article was produced by Green Building Elements and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


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