Little Houses Fill Big Need

By Ben Taylor
Ben Taylor
Ben Taylor
October 24, 2008 Updated: October 24, 2008

Epoch Times Photo
With just four tiny dwellings, it’s Vancouver’s smallest housing development. But the houses amply fulfill their goal: to provide a safe, dry, personal home for the night.

The units were designed and built by industrial design students from Emily Carr University of Art and Design along with students from the UBC’s Centre for Advanced Wood Processing program in response to British Columbia’s homelessness crisis.

In the Homes For Less project, the students were challenged to design short-term housing on a shoe-string budget of $1,500 or less, with the stipulation that 30 per cent of the building components had to come from recycled or reused materials.

“These would be living modules for individuals or maybe a pair, and then there would be some kind of communal pod that would then house plumbing and a cooking facility,” said Emily Carr Associate Professor Christian Blyt.

“They can put there things in there and they can lock it up and the idea is that it’s a community with everyone looking after each other so they have a sense of security.”

Blyt conducted research with his students on homelessness before the four portable living quarters were designed and constructed, which included interviewing homeless citizens and directors of shelters and support agencies.

In building the 64-square foot self-contained units, the students used structural insulated panels in the roofs to hold the heat.

“The units are so small, you wouldn’t need much heat,” Blyt said. “And that’s the idea too that they can be placed and relocated very easily; with a very low impact,”

According to the students’ research there are approximately 10-15,000 homeless in British Columbia. The professor explained that the units would be suitable for 10-15 per cent of this population who “just had some tough luck and are self sufficient. We see these as stepping stone into mainstream society for these citizens. So that they would have an address, they would be somebody.”

He suggests that if people own something, they’re more likely to respect it.

“The idea is that they buy shares, then they sell that, so they have a sense of ownership and pride because I think that is a big problem with a lot of the social housing in the Downtown Eastside, that people don’t respect something they don’t own.”

Mayors Wayne Wright of New Westminster and Ian Sutherland of Squamish have shown interest in the project, as have community groups and the general public. The brightly-coloured units will be on display on Granville Island until November 14.

“A home is as much a mental state as it is a physical state,” Blyt said, noting the irony of a homeless man living in a cardboard box adjacent to the campus while his students constructed their scale cardboard models of the units.

“If you think of what most of these people are living in, the conditions for most of these citizens, these modules would be a castle for these people.”

Ben Taylor
Ben Taylor