By. Chris Stritzel - Reading Time: 14 Minutes, 25 Seconds
We are a city that has tremendous problems. I know that this isn't the sort of start to a normal blog post on this website. Instead, this a blog post to help take a swing at the "tremendous problem" part. It's no secret that we have high crime, a high amount of abandoned buildings, a homeless epidemic and a large number of vacant lots across the city. These problems have plagued us for years, but we must get them under control moving forward. St. Louis is a city in the midst of a great renaissance. New buildings are going up and new businesses are opening across the city. Former vacant buildings and lots are being redeveloped and put to higher uses all the while we sometimes forget about our homeless.
It struck me when I was out driving around last night in Downtown, the center of our renaissance. I went by the Jefferson Arms building on Tucker and homeless people were sleeping under the building's main awning. Other homeless individuals were sleeping down Locust by the Christ Church Cathedral and even some made a tent city under the drive-thru at US Bank at Tucker and Olive. These scenes made me concerned especially with winter fast approaching. Larry Rice's NLEC was closed down just before the April 2017 Municipal Election and the Biddle House shelter, at Tucker and Biddle, recently had it's occupancy number dropped. These two changes have left us with an epidemic in Downtown. We have homeless people all over the place, and it breaks my heart to see this.
I had an idea to become a City that uses homelessness to revitalize neighborhoods and give the homeless a safe place to live. A place that's close to the Metro bus stop or to a major job center so that the homeless people can get to their eventual jobs. I know that this may seem like I am using homeless people for an agenda, but I'm not. What I am thinking of is a way to help lift them off of the streets and into homes that are safe, clean and are in convenient locations that serve them. What I am thinking of are tiny homes in tiny neighborhoods in the near vicinity around Downtown, Midtown and Central West End on parking lots or LRA owned properties. It can be done here and is, but first, let me set examples of where It has worked elsewhere.
In a city whose population has soared and average rent and home prices have followed, it was inevitable that a homeless crisis would appear there. The Northwest's largest city has taken a progressive approach to the issue and has had great success from the public and private sectors. However, Seattle's idea has brought numerous problems from the location of these "camps" to the way they are maintained. Seattle Low Incoming Housing Institute (LIHI) has chosen locations for these "camps" faraway from the main Downtown area. Downtown Seattle is where a major of the jobs are. However, because the city is growing so much, it isn't surprising that they pushed the modeless way far out from the main community. Even the shelter provided by the non-profit LIHI isn't meant to be permanent with a majority residents leaving because the camps are not permanent, far distances and not well maintained or are plagued with problems.
While the LIHI and City of Seattle push forward with their plans to build more of these tiny house camps, controversy is continuing to sweep with the structures being made to last for a temporary amount of time and causing fire hazards because of their materials and features included. Plus, they are only large enough for a small bed and chair. Nothing more. But they have given the homeless a sense of dignity and even some have moved on to find permanent housing as a positive of these village camps (without having the problems that others have had).
In Dallas, a poverty-focused group by the name of "CitySquare" has successfully developer 50, 400SF home for the chronically homeless (people with disabilities who have been homeless for more than year. Examples: The Mentally Ill, Veterans with PTSD, People with handicaps and people with conditions that prevent them from getting a job). The vision by CitySquare ahs worked really well with the entire development featuring security and an onsite clinic for those suffering from their conditions. These small houses, of 400SF, have a bathroom, bedroom and full size kitchen and are located fairly close to the main hubs of activity and Dallas.
The cost for this development like this is $6.8 Million. It was paid for by the city of Dallas ($2.5 million) and from private donors and a foundation grant ($4.3 Million). The development is fully occupied and the housing is meant to be permanent.
This is about as tiny as they come but at least they come with a mini fridge, microwave and a bed. These 60SF houses were constructed with money raised on GoFundMe to the amount of $50,000. Only 6 have been built and are placed into a small village with a community restroom and showering area. Each tiny house has a hybrid AC/Heating Window Unit. They sit on a site near a Nashville Public Transportation Bus Line. That site is the Nashville Green Street Church of Christ parking lot. Putting these homes here allows for Church members to check in on their homeless neighbors while also giving the people living in these homes a place to live and stay out of the elements. They are built on trailers just in case they need to be moved.
BACK TO ST. LOUIS
While these are examples of successful investments through private and public partnerships in cities that are much larger than us, we most certainly can follow these organizations footprints and create something like those here. My idea to get the homeless off of the street is a biggie, but something I can see taking a significant bit out of our homeless epidemic while create jobs, revitalizing communities by taking vacant buildings down and redeveloping vacant lots while reducing crime created by these abandoned structures. It's a mouthful but a plan that could really help us out. Let me explain.
St. Louis Gives a Shot at it.
In March 2018, NextSTL reported that an organization was building 6 tiny houses for homeless people in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood on the Northside. The 6 homes are meant to be permanent housing for 6 of the city's nearly 3000 homeless people. It's a small number, but the small modern houses are occupied and have brought new hope to the 6 people living in the homes. However, they are far away from job centers and while they are located near a public bus route on Grand, it's just a way out of the way solution. Putting the homeless away from the main hub of activity seems wrong in my view but North Grand Neighborhood Services, who built these homes, has a great idea, but location must come second in the planning phase.
The homes constructed by NGNS in JeffVanderLou are energy efficient but we need something that is also sustainable. What do I mean by this? Well, look at what Travis Sheridan is doing in Old North St. Louis. He is building his dream home out of shipping containers. It's an innovative idea that is truly sustainable. No trees would have to be cut down for the house. Basically, he is recycling former shipping containers that no longer serve their purpose to ship stuff across the world. Plus, using shipping containers is far more affordable to convert into tiny houses as the general structure is there.
I'm not crazy on this idea either, Wisconsin based MODs is selling this very concept on Amazon right now. These 320FT shipping container homes include a sitting area, kitchenette, bedroom and full size bathroom. Even the smaller 160SF containers include the above features but without a sitting area. See the galleries below for examples (first is the 160SF container followed by the 320SF container).
These shipping container homes are also quite cheap if bought from MODs. MODs prices the 320SF unit at $36,000 while the smaller one is priced at $23,000. Shipping to St. Louis would range from nearly $3800 to $4400 each depending on the size. these small homes are also on the "mid-tier" side of things. that means they aren't shabby but aren't ultra luxurious. That makes these homes perfect for this kind of a development as they provide basic shelter while offering fairly remarkable finishes. Bouncing back to the Nashville tiny home concept, each one of these shipping container homes could be painted a different color, and in a block of 10 homes, each one could have a different color to add vibrancy to the block.
The courtyard would be similar to CitySquare's Dallas development only my idea includes adding a small porch onto the front of the homes for leisure and a community feeling. A small porch cover would be built to provide shade. The Courtyard itself would have a community garden that all houses look onto. There would be a few trees, bushes and some grass. In front of each home and between the sidewalk, would be another small patch of grass to liven up the entrance to the small homes. Along with the community garden would also be three light posts, like the kind you see out in front yards of people's homes, to light the courtyard. Around the perimeter of the development would be trees and bushes to provide privacy and tranquility to the residents.
So where will these "homes for the homeless" go? Well, it all comes down to location. I have a checklist that must be met for selection of a site for my ideas. Here is the checklist...
A Site Chosen for This
The site chosen for this idea are properties owned by the City of St. Louis LRA. The addresses are 3101, 3103, 3105, 3107, 3111, 3117, 3123 and 3125 Samuel Shepard Drive. Combined, the square footage of the lots totals out to be 35,521SF of space. With the average block needing approximately 4200SF, that totals out to be 8.5 blocks of homes or 70 residential units with 7 community buildings. In a situation like this, all addresses are right next door to each other thus creating a "mega block". The total square footage for 3101-3107 Samuel Shepard Drive ends up being 13,467SF and with 4200SF required per block, that creates space for about 7 blocks of homes with 1.5 blocks of community buildings (or 7500SF).
There would also be 70 homes in this "mega block". The homes would share the same courtyards with the 7 individual courtyards looking slightly different landscaping wise. As far as the checklist goes...
So how much could this first development cost? Let's break it down...
To end this idea blog post, I would like to make myself think that maybe, just maybe this plan will happen. It's ambitious but it moves more and more homeless people off of the streets for the betterment of themselves. This project would be done via a non-profit organization, that I want to form, and I expect this could become a movement in St. Louis and will eventually redevelop neighborhoods into places where the formerly homeless and average citizen intertwine. We have the oppurtunity to tackle the homelessness crisis in St. Louis and benefit everyone in the city no matter their background. Just think, if our major companies and organizations pitch in money along with residents of the City and region, we could all have a better sense of civic pride because we would know that we helped change people's lives for the better.
Thank you for reading and keep dreaming!
MODs Website and Links to the Amazon Pages