When COVID-19 triggered a global crisis that threatened his startup, Keenan O’Leary He changed his plan to help solve another emergency: widespread homelessness.
In 2019, O’Leary established a company to provide an accommodation alternative to low-cost hotels with public sleeping arrangements. His idea is to create affordable, easy-to-assemble pods that provide budget travelers with privacy and security at a lower price than a typical hotel room. Working with industrial designers, they began to develop units that can be installed in unused spaces, such as empty warehouses or other underutilized buildings, but still have heating, cooling, and plumbing systems.
Then COVID struck. Travel quickly dries up. Start-up companies risk failure.
“We are looking for a way to not waste the work we put in,” O’Leary said.
As the COVID unfolded, O’Leary watched his hometown of Seattle work hard to provide shelter and services to the rapidly increasing number of homeless people, including a family member who had been left unsheltered for a long time.
The challenge is huge.A study by Washington University According to statistics, 839 tents were used as shelters in Seattle in 2019. A narrow follow-up survey found that as of the summer of 2020, the number of tents had expanded by 53% in about 9 months.Before the pandemic, near 23,000 people in Washington According to a federal report, they are experiencing homelessness during the one-night count in January 2020.
O’Leary wondered if he could modify his dormitory cabin to serve this group.
Therefore, he and his designer James Lee began to redesign their products to reduce prices and increase their durability, using PVC plastic panels that are easy to clean and resistant to graffiti and bacteria. These devices have aluminum frames to increase strength. If the panel is damaged, it can be replaced with a new one. The unit has a fan and sprinkler system.
Start, called City pods, And its prototype will be announced this week and shared with elected officials, government agencies, and organizations that provide services for the homeless. The plan is to fine-tune these units and hope to get some initial orders.
These units also include Amazon Fire Tablets affixed to panels to help residents access virtual services in the privacy of their rooms, including mental health professionals or support for treatment of substance abuse.
O’Leary said the goal is to try to solve some of the “root causes of homelessness.”
The units will be built in Washington State, with a target price of approximately $12,000 for the 64-square-foot pod. One possible client is a community college in the Puget Sound area. There are about 150 homeless students in the school, and they are working hard to secure housing. The high cost of the college to build its own dormitory made them consider another option, such as setting up City Pods in the vacant Safeway near the campus.
Julie WileyThe City of Everett Community Development Director viewed a demo pod on Wednesday as a potential option for her community in North Seattle.
She likes the idea of reusing unused buildings and providing people with their own small spaces to find stability and the services they need.
“We need to provide a full range of services and housing opportunities,” Wiley said.
The question is whether the option will disappear. In addition to the price of the pod, the buildings used to house these units may need to modify more bathrooms, showers, laundry rooms, and public kitchen spaces, as well as upgrades to heating and cooling systems.
Based on Everett tray A reusable paneled housing solution was also created. Their devices are cheaper than City Pods and are suitable for outdoor standalone devices. Since its launch in 2016, Pallet has provided housing for the homeless in cities across the country. Wiley said that the city where she lives has already purchased a Pallet device with good performance.
The ideal long-term solution is still to find permanent housing for people, but meeting the growing demand is costly and progress is slow.
A potential local solution, the Sympathy Seattle Initiative, will not appear in the November vote after a judge ruled that sweeping reforms of homeless city policies are beyond its scope.
“We must try every innovative idea we can get and invest in effective methods,” said Skerchim Kelmendi, executive Director Shell connectorThis Seattle-based non-profit organization bridges the gap between organizations that help homeless people find housing and property owners and managers.
Kelmendi said City Pods “can be part of the solution.” “We just don’t have enough housing supply to accommodate everyone.”