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The COVID-19 global pandemic has exacerbated the homelessness crisis and amplified existing challenges that people experiencing homelessness face, including vital access to shelter, sanitation, and digital services. Houselets utilize existing urban infrastructure to create safe, temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness amidst a global pandemic.
Traditional homeless shelters have proven incompatible with this emergency while the demand for a solution has only increased. The situation in New York feels particularly urgent as the typically 24-hour subway is now closing overnight for cleaning. That change came just a day after local authorities referred to the increase in people sleeping on trains as "disgusting." It was a disappointing thing to hear. While we, of course, understand wanting to protect frontline workers and public transit employees, it is misplaced disgust without solutions. It's clear that no one wants to be in an overcrowded shelter right now, but alternatives are limited.
This served as inspiration for Houselet. Drawing on the parklet model, which has become a popular strategy for expanding public space, Houselets occupy existing parking lanes and are designed for quick and easy installation, transition, and eventual removal. As far as where Houselets would be built, we know that the pandemic has prompted an exodus from urban centers. This has reduced the number of cars and created an opportunity to repurpose parking spaces for the deployment of essential shelters. To mitigate cost, construction time, and disruption to existing city systems, Houselets tap into widely available existing urban infrastructure.
Connecting Houslets to fire hydrants provides clean running water for shower and sink facilities in each unit and improves access to sanitation, which is critical during a health emergency like this. Electricity in Houselets is provided by tapping into the existing streetlights that are readily available across most major cities. And finally, in an effort to bridge the digital divide and ensure connectivity, Houselets would be positioned in a way to provide access to existing public WiFi infrastructure, such as WiFi kiosks.
After the emergency passes, Houselets may be removed and parking spaces restored. But, wherever possible, they should be converted into parklets that the general public would benefit from. The materials used to construct the Houselets could easily be repurposed to expand public space across our cities.
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SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology
Technical University of Munich