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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Occupy...A Home

I've never been much impressed with the "Occupy" movement*. The "issues" which they claim to hold dear--and more importantly the solutions they propose--may look like nice things on the surface (well, some of them), but their class-warfare rhetoric and and unruliness as a mob alone are causes for concern**. Their general lack of awareness (often including self-awareness) tends to make the movement itself look ridiculous.

But, credit should be given where it is due, and they have done a good work in Madison. Indeed, it is one of the seven corporal works of mercy, to house the homeless. This they are attempting, by latching onto the "tiny house" movement:

The activists behind Occupy Madison have come up with a tiny solution to a big problem: building mini-homes for the homeless community as part of an ongoing political campaign against homelessness in Wisconsin's capital city. 
Madison's housing vacancy rate, 1.8 percent, is four times lower than the national average, and an estimated 3,000 people reported having spent at least one night in a shelter last year.  
The homes are around 98 square feet and will be equipped with a microwave, a small refrigerator, and heating, according to the organizers. The units are built on wheels and will have to be moved every 48 hours to circumvent the city’s parking requirements, which prohibit trailers from staying outdoors on the same location for more than two days. 
"It’s very difficult to be homeless in Madison within city limits; there is no provision for camping outdoors," Bruce Wallbaum, a board member of OM Build, Occupy Madison’s nonprofit organization in charge of building the units, told Al Jazeera.

Marsha Rummel, a Madison councilwoman who sits on a housing committee, embraces the idea of micro-homes. While she doesn't believe they are the ultimate solution, she told Al Jazeera they can be "one part of the package.''

"Madison clearly has a challenge for housing people," she said.

One home is already close to completion, with plans for up to eight more within a year. Over time, the organizers hope to expand the project into an eco-community with facilities of various sizes, including one-bedroom houses...

Other cities with strong Occupy movements have already established such communities, such as Portland's Dignity Village and the Quixote Village in Olympia, Wash., which started to provide housing to the homeless ahead of the nationwide Occupy Wall Street protests...

Those who live in the mini-homes are expected to help build their own houses to give people "a sense of dignity” while taking part in community activities, Wallbaum said.

"You go through an application process, you start work in the shop, you start earning hours toward a tiny home and eventually you reach a point where you’re in line to get a tiny home," he explained...

Occupy Madison is also working with church leaders to find an arrangement that would provide a permanent location for the mobile houses on the churches’ parking lots, "but that would also require the city’s zoning laws to change," Wallbaum said.

Councilwoman Rummel said that she was mulling the possibility of introducing legislation that would allow churches and non-profits groups to accommodate the homes.
There's a lot to like about this. And the houses, while inexpensive (about $3000 each) seem to provide the basic necessities of a home:
Ninety-six square feet is obviously a scant amount of space, even within the tiny house movement. But the design, created by structural engineer and Occupy Madison volunteer Steve Burns, features a full-size bed, a kitchen that includes a mini-fridge and a microwave, and a bathroom with a compost toilet. 
Most of the interior details, including the kitchen counters and cupboards, are made out of repurposed materials, and the lumber involved is all reclaimed, collected from across Madison. “We have what we call ‘Pallet-Palooza,’ ” says O.M. board member Walter Wallbaum. “We take apart old warehouse pallets, then mill them and make them into siding.” 
To generate electricity, the nonprofit’s model home uses a donated solar voltaic system. Heat, meanwhile, is supplied by a small propane heater, though Wallbaum says that future iterations of the house will experiment with more sustainable heating methods.

There is the problem of finding a more "permanent" place to put these homes--city ordinances do not allow them to be parked in any location for more than two days, though the movement seems to be working with the city council and local community (including churches) to resolve this, which is another point in their favor:
Rather than building the homes on a particular lot of land — and thus adding another expense — the houses are mounted on trailers which can be legally parked on the street, as long as they’re moved every 48 hours. Parking on the street may not even be necessary after Occupy organizers successfully convinced the Madison Common Council recently to change the city’s zoning laws so the homes could be parked on private property with permission.
And the fact that the homeless people in question actually take part in building these homes is another good touch--the poor often need a  hand and not only a hand-out, as the saying goes. This is not the solution to all of the homeless problems--neither the problems faced by nor those caused by the homeless--but it is a step in the right direction, and for that Occupy Madison should be commended.

*Disclaimer:I am not a part of the teaparty movement, either, nor is it fair to say that I back establishment-types and the "status quo".

**No, I am not a part of the 1%. I'm out of my twenties and I still don't even own my own house yet!

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