Salvation Army Orlando unveils new type of homeless housing

Good News Notes: 

They are small, simple, shiny and a lot less expensive than a traditional homeless shelter. And The Salvation Army in Orlando wants to raise $1 million to build a community of 50 of them — part of an urgent effort to create new emergency housing for what community leaders expect to be a flood of newly homeless Central Floridians in the coming months.

The Pallet shelter units, unveiled by The Salvation Army in a demonstration Friday, are gaining momentum across the country to address the growing homelessness crisis. Made by a Washington state-based “social purpose” company where 83% of employees were once homeless themselves, the fiberglass and plastic units are equipped with air conditioning, heat, electrical outlets, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

They can withstand winds up to 170 mph.

The two-bed unit, just 64 square feet, starts at $5,495.

“This is an alternative opportunity for housing people who are houseless,” said Captain Ken Chapman, the charity’s Orlando-area commander. “This is what we consider to be an affordable opportunity that’s not mass sheltering, but it allows families to have rooms together and individuals to have rooms together with bathrooms and a common area where they can eat together.”

Chapman is hoping local governments, foundations and philanthropists will step forward to support a 50-unit compound that would house at least 80 people — including homeless people with pets who typically refuse shelter rather than leave their animals behind.

The Salvation Army’s two current shelters — one for men, another for women and children — have a total of 300 beds that are always full. And the charity is planning to gut the aging buildings in September for a complete renovation and modernization, during which current residents will be housed in local extended-stay hotels and a massive 8,700-square-foot tent facility erected during the pandemic to allow people to stay at least 6 feet apart.

But with the region’s tight rental market, low-wage economy and a looming June 30 expiration for the federal government’s pandemic eviction moratorium, Central Florida leaders are also bracing for a flood of newly homeless families.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen after the moratorium is over,” Chapman said. “We anticipate we’re going to have a big problem.”

The Pallet units are resistant to rot, mold and mildew, and their shiny white exterior and foam-core panels help buffer heat and cold. But the living units have no bathrooms or kitchens.

Rather, a 50-unit compound would have three two-stall bathroom units with toilets, showers and sinks and one large communal shelter unit for meals. The entire project, including water, sewer and electrical hook-ups, would run about $1 million, Chapman said.

The biggest challenge will be where to put it….”

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