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Designs refined for miniature homes for homeless residents

Community Compassion Outreach to unveil new ideas Saturday
Fort Lewis College engineering students tested and helped redesign housing that could be built for homeless residents. Ian Begay, left, and Andre Bos load 42-kilogram sacks of cement on a wind-load testing apparatus. The apparatus applies a uniform horizontal force to the opposite wall, simulating an 80 mph wind gust. Students also analyzed alternative housing models.

Plans to house the homeless with miniature homes in Durango are taking shape.

Community Compassion Outreach, a Durango group, will present updated design plans for the homes Saturday and outline how community members can help found a village for the homeless residents, Executive Director Donna Mae Baukat said.

“Our goal is to end homelessness – one house at a time,” she said.

The village could be similar to Opportunity Village, a tiny home development set up by SquareOne Villages, a nonprofit, in Eugene, Oregon. SquareOne Villages set up 80-square-foot sleeping cabins instead of tents, because they are warmer, safer and prevent theft.

The village model to address homelessness has been replicated in Denver; Portland, Oregon; Newfield, New York; Olympia, Washington; and other cities.

“We are not creating something new. But we can improve upon it,” Baukat said.

The Durango village could feature 256-square-foot homes, with running water and sewer that could be built for less than $20,000 per unit. The two-bedroom homes would be heated with propane and share buried water and sewer lines, Baukat said.

The miniature homes offer a far more affordable option than other forms of housing for homeless residents, said Stuart Ohlson, founder of Humanitarian House International. He sees the design as a rational approach to the pressing problem of housing homeless residents.

Fort Lewis College engineering students worked with Humanitarian House International this spring to redesign a structure that could house homeless residents. The homes could be built for about $20,000. Community Compassion Outreach, a Durango group, envisions the homes could built in a village that would also provide residents with services, such as case management.

“The nature of having the American dream mean anything is to take care of the people that are in need. ... I just don’t think we can close our eyes or pocketbooks,” he said.

Ohlson designed lightweight shelters to temporarily house people after disasters in equatorial climates, and he worked with Fort Lewis College students this semester to redesign the homes for Durango’s colder climate. In the process, the homes were redesigned to be more permanent structures.

The original homes were framed with PVC piping, but the 16 engineering students who tested the structure found the PVC had problems, said FLC professor Don May.

Fort Lewis College students from left, Ian Begay, Eli Dickinson, Andre Bos and Natalie Lyon work on putting together a Humanitarian House International house with the frame made of plastic pipe and fittings. The Humanity House International dwelling was one of several different types being built to see what would work best in a community for the homeless.

The PVC could not handle heavy snow loads, and it could break down over time with exposure to ultraviolet light, he said.

“It would get weaker and weaker as the years passed by,” he said.

The project proved to be a challenge for students, because the vision for the project shifted during the semester. They also had to deal with unknowns such as economics and public opinion, May said.

“It brought together the whole collection of things that influence an engineering project,” he said.

In the new design, Ohlson replaced the PVC frame with more durable structural insulated panels, which are common in modern construction.

Homeless residents could help construct the new homes in the planned village, and once established, it could be self-governed, Baukat said.

To make the village a reality, Community Compassion Outreach is in need of land and volunteers with expertise in solar, power and structural engineering.


If you go

Community Compassion Outreach will host a presentation on the redesigned homes and plans for a village for homeless residents from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Durango Christian Church, 255 E. 11th St. To RSVP, email Donna Mae Baukat at donnamaebaukat@gmail.com or call 236-2313.

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