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  • Thrive Detroit

Homes for the Homeless Finds a “Home”, Part 2

“The man who calls a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.” – Oscar Wilde

This is Part 2 of an ongoing series (going on till it gets done–or I can’t go any further) about Van Gogh’s Bedroom, a plan to create “Homes for the Homeless” in INTERdependent living communities using surplus city-owned materials. Part 1, “Trash to Treasure: Building Homes for the Homeless” was in the July issue of Thrive.

Shortly after the July issue went to press, another tragedy struck Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. A guest of the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Manna Meals program stabbed another homeless guest to death on the front lawn of the church. Ironically, this occurred just outside the window of the former office for Van Gogh’s Bedroom, an office I had to vacate at the end of May because I could no longer afford the $150/month rent.

The idea for Van Gogh’s Bedroom was inspired, if that’s the right word, by an incident in which a homeless guest of Manna Meals was brutally beaten by a Corktown resident for sleeping in the alcove of a nearby school. In another bit of irony, the attacker’s brother was one of the contractors who built the surplus precast tunnel segments that I intend to use to construct my “homes for the homeless.” He was also a former classmate at U of D Engineering School, and a friend.

He once told me that building a tunnel was easier than building a house. He is right. Hence, he was the inspiration for using the millions of dollars worth of surplus tunnel segments to create affordable, energy-efficient, 350-square-foot, circular homes. The idea is simple: use a basic, standardized building technique and duplicate it many times to create homes, businesses, and manufacturing facilities. One form, many functions.

There is good news. Inspired by the grassroots organizing of the Detroit Action Commonwealth (D.A.C.), a group whose origin traces to the Capuchin Soup Kitchens, the Capuchins have agreed to provide a location for construction of a demonstration home. It is near the Solanus Casey Center, the Meldrum Soup Kitchen, and Earthworks Farm. They realize we must do more than just feed the homeless and are hopeful that this may be a way to break the cycle.

Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture, designers of Compuware’s Lafayette Greens Garden downtown, graciously provided a design for a 5-pod complex. Ron Hausmann, a Walbridge executive and supporter who jumped in 5 minutes after hearing about the project 10 months ago, is still in the game.

The design has been entered in the Building Trust International (BTI) design competition to create a $30,000 single-occupancy home for an urban area of a developed country. I think Detroit still qualifies.

The next step is to stop the City from destroying the millions of dollars worth of tunnel segments to make crushed rocks and stone, and buy the tens of thousands of dollars worth of crushed stone they need instead. A letter has been delivered to Mayor Bing asking him to do just that. He has not responded as of press time.

July 29 marked the 122nd anniversary of Van Gogh’s death. Frustrated by the lack of acceptance of his work, he fatally shot himself two days before. His last words to his brother were “The sadness will go on forever.” His work, then considered “different,” is now widely accepted.

Can providing safe, secure, round homes for the homeless help to end some of the sadness? I think so. Give me the spade–or a shovel.

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