The Mad Housers

Community First! Village in Austin, TX

Happy November, everyone!  

We wanted to share what this fantastic organization in Texas is doing to help alleviate homelessness AND enrich the community.  Community First! Village is a program created by a group called Mobile Loaves & Fishes, based in Austin, TX.  The Village - a 27-acre property filled with gardens and various small structures - is set to break ground in 2014 and will serve Central Texas' disabled and chronically homeless population.  What's really cool about this setup is that, through employment at the Village, the tenants will pay their own rent while learning valuable skills like carpentry.  All of the furniture at the Community First! Village is made by the residents.  In addition to housing, the compound will include a bed and breakfast, farm, church, and a fully-equipped medical facility with physicians, dentists, and mental health professionals.

Thanks to our friend Cindy for sharing this article with us.  More information - with a great video about the vision behind the Village, as told by its founder - can be found at the Community First! website.

-Laurel

Amazon Smile

Hey everyone!  We wanted to tell you about a cool new feature offered by Amazon.com called Amazon Smile.  By going to smile.amazon.com, logging in and adding your favorite charity the Mad Housers, every 1/2% of your purchase will be donated to us.  You'll need to buy from smile.amazon.com as opposed to amazon.com for your purchases, but it's a small price to pay to support a great cause!  Check it out here: smile.amazon.com

So, an update!

I'm pretty bad about keeping up on the blog posts. Here's the situation so far:

More information on the new space

We've successfully moved out of the old warehouse and gotten everything into the new space. We're now working on building out the workspace, which will hopefully take a only few weeks.

About the move...

From a recent email to the volunteers:

...Now, y'all may recall that our tenure at our current address, the warehouse at Permalume, is coming to an end. We've had a great ten years there, subletting our space from the wonderful Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta. Sadly, the Furniture Bank is moving and simply cannot take us along into their new space. We've been aware of this since 2011 and had started the search this fall for a new space for the Housers to move into, ahead of the expiry of the Furniture Bank's lease in August 2013.

But in November, we were informed that the Furniture Bank's Board of Directors had decided to try to break lease six months ahead of schedule. To do that, we'd also have to be out six months earlier than planned. Suddenly, our August deadline was February, which, as you may imagine, increased the pressure on us considerably. Add in the normal winter surge of demand and the interruptions that the winter holidays bring, and you may understand why you haven't really heard much from me recently.

Over the past few months, I've been searching for a place for us to purchase. Basically, housing costs are so low thanks to the '09 market crash that it's far cheaper for us to buy a place and fix it up than to rent. The trick was finding a place that would work for us physically and financially. And lo and behold, we seem to be in luck: last Thursday I signed on a house in southwest Atlanta with a detached double garage apartment. The plan is to rent out the front house and turn the apartment into the new home for the Housers. We're moving out of our folks' place at last!

Now our challenge is the moving and the fixing up. And make no mistake, it's a challenge - a big one. We have a little over four weeks to make the garage unit habitable, and there's lots of work to be done. On the warehouse side, we've stopped ordering new materials and are instead trying to deploy as much lumber as possible as new shelters. So we've got a triple load of work to do over the next few weeks: fix up the new place, pack up the old place, and in the meantime continue to shelter our clients. Simple, right?

Here's how I see it happening: over the next two to three weeks, we'll be deploying shelters and packing up the warehouse as professionals work on making the new space habitable, getting the power turned back on and the permits done. Once the pros have the lights back on, we'll go in and turn the rebuilt space into our new home, setting up our shop and moving our stuff into place. Now frankly, I don't expect us to be ready to resume production of shelters by March. But I do think that we should be safely out of our old space by then and sitting around with a lot of construction going on around us. By April, however, we should be back online.  

New Feature: I Am Not an Architect

Nick here. Every so often, we have some sort of design problem - er, sorry "challenge" - that gives us fits. This is usually because, hey, we're not actually architects (or engineers, or construction workers, or public health experts, etc). Therefore, I'm going to try to work with the wisdom of crowds here, which means I'm going to be very lazy and ask the Internet to see if maybe YOU can come up with a solution.  Hence, I Am Not An Architect.

So, for my inaugural I am Not An Architect post, I want to talk insulation. With our fullsize huts, we don't worry too much about insulation beyond taking care of the roof and floor, because the huts are actively heated with our stoves.  But our Low Rider structures, which measure only 4 feet high by 4' x 8', clearly cannot take a stove - we have yet to come up with any safe, practical way to heat such a small space. Therefore, we insulate every panel of a Low Rider - floor, ceiling, walls, all of it.

This works well enough for the wintertime, but for all the other season, it can make the Low Riders too darn stuffy. So we have to figure a way to stricke a balance: how do we keep our clients safe in the coldest nights but keep them reasonably comfortable during the warmer months?

Please keep in mind that the answer does not have to be construction-based! We're currently experimenting with getting rid of the wall insulation on the Low Riders and instead giving a good-quality sleeping bag with each one.  Any solution to the problem must be simple to implement - remember, we're not cuonstruction professionals, either - and preferably low-cost.

Send your suggestions to president@madhousers.org. If we like it, we'll try it, and give you the credit.  Thanks!

 

Shout-out from the Energy Vangaurd

Here's a kind and informative blog entry about the Housers from the Energy Vangaurd blog. It's not often that we get blog entries that are as in-depth as EV's; clearly, the author lives and breathes his work.  If you're a construction nerd like I am, you'll want to check out the EV blog - it's well-written, informative, and updated often - something we need to do here...

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Win-Win-Win

The radio article in WABE was very nice, and it demonstrated what I call the "win-win-win" nature of the Housers outreach.

In the article, the reporter met not only our client for the build, James, but also a family whose house backs up to the lot where we deployed the shelter. James' having a shelter made the family happy, because by keeping criminals away from his area, he also keeps them away from their house. So stabilizing James' situation also helps to stabilize the neighborhood, which is win-win; but also, because James and the community are mutually supporting each other, the Housers don't have to worry about the site, either - so it's win-win-win.

This is an aspect of our outreach that many folks don't recognize: that once a homeless person has a stable shelter in the neighborhood, they become invested in that neighborhood. Before having a shelter, a client has nothing to lose; but once a client has his own place, he's less interested in trouble that could hurt his own household. They now have a stake in their future and in their community's future, and that stake makes a big difference.

Now, I'm not going to argue that every homeless person is perfectly rational operator or that there aren't idiots among the homeless. But that holds true for the population at large!

At the end of the day, we should ask ourselves: would we rather know who our neighbors are or not? As long as we pursue a strategy of sweeping homeless away, we'll never know for sure who's staying in that patch of woods. Ultimately, helping our neighbors helps ourselves.