Noted Houston chiropractor and right-leaning city council member Jack Christie recently proposed a rather far out solution for the city's homeless population — micro-housing.
As the Houston Chronicle's Chris Moran first reported, the councilman described for his colleagues the work of Mad Housers, an Atlanta non-profit that has been building individual housing modules for the homeless since the late 1980s.
"When it comes down to it, everyone needs a place to sleep," Tracy Woodard of Mad Houser s said. "We aim to address issues of privacy and security that help to stabilize people and get them out of poverty."
Picture a six-by-eight-foot wooden hut with a safe wood-burning stove, sleeping loft, and lockable doors. Fully insulated and waterproof, each 10-foot-tall structure offers protection from the elements as well as the sense of security. A small "low rider" version, measuring only four feet high, is also available for those wanted to stay out of sight.
"When it comes down to it, everyone needs a place to sleep," Tracy Woodard, Mad Housers' client outreach coordinator, told CultureMap in a phone interview. "We aim to address issues of privacy and security that help to stabilize people and get them out of poverty."
Accepting recommendations from organizations like the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, Mad Housers builds about 15 huts a year for clients the organization feels can benefit from a temporary housing solution.
"When we approach a new homeless client, a locking door is always one of our biggest pitches," Woodard said. "Just the psychological impact of that minor thing is such a huge step in the right direction."
"What we do is take the pressure of survival off of them," Mad Housers board member Evan Ehrenhalt told the Out There Atlanta podcast. "We let them find their own salvation however they will."
Christie told city council he intends to explore whether Houston can replicate the Atlanta model, saying that he hoped to use volunteers from Habitat for Humanity or large area corporations to keep costs low.
There's a catch, though
Since the organization was started in 1987 by two Georgia Tech architecture students, Mad Housers works as clandestine operation, eschewing any form of local permitting. Much of the group's success, in fact, lies in its lack of concern for the law and the manner in which it places its values before building codes and municipal red tape.
Much of the Mad Housers' success, in fact, lies in its lack of concern for the law and the manner in which it places its values before building codes.
As Atlanta faced an influx of refugees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Mad Housers then-president Nick Hess described the organization as a group of "first responders" for the region's homeless, working directly with those in need to find resettlement solutions where larger governmental programs faltered.
In the past decade, Tracy Woodard explained, the organization has focused on maintaining positive relations with landholders willing to offer space for Mad Houser structures. This type of interpersonal interaction and community involvement, she felt, helped secure the long-term success of each client.
Of course, the question is whether a type of city-sanctioned Mad Housers program would be able to achieve that same degree of street-level support.
Councilman Christie did not return numerous calls for additional comment. Representatives from the United Way of Greater Houston said the organization had nothing to say on the idea at this time.