A couple of nights ago, I went to a meeting of the Mad Housers, a wonderful organization here in Atlanta that provides shelter for homeless people. They build and deploy homes that are even smaller than Tiny Houses, and in doing so, they provide people at the bottom of the economic ladder with security, a measure of comfort, and a heaping dose of dignity.
I first learned of the Mad Housers about five years ago when I saw them tabling in front of a store. I talked with them and picked up their literature, mentally noting that I wanted to get involved with them. At the meeting this week, I found a group of dedicated people who are passionate about helping the homeless. This is a 100% volunteer organization, set up as a nonprofit, and their focus is on helping people.
What they do is unique in the spectrum of services to support homeless people, at least as far as I can tell. Some homeless people sleep on the street, as you can see in the photo at top. Others sleep under bridges, in abandoned buildings, or in the woods. The Mad Housers work with those who live in camps in the woods, upgrading their shelter from a blanket with their stuff in a pile under a tarp to an actual wood-framed structure that’s insulated and heated and can be locked.
They build the huts at their warehouse in Atlanta and then deploy them to the camps that they’re working with. Is this legal? Well, the FAQ on the Mad Housers website addresses that question. Basically, they don’t create camps. They deploy shelters to existing camps and seek permission from the landowner where appropriate. After putting donated money and labor into building the huts, they don’t like to see them destroyed.
The types of structures they build are the Hi-Hat Hut, the Classic Hut, and the Low Rider Shelter. The first two 6’x8′ and tall enough for a person to stand up inside. They also include a stove for heating in the winter. The Low Rider, at four feet high, is basically a sleeping and storage box.
If you’re in the Atlanta area and want to help, check out their calendar of events. They’re having a ‘Build’ this Thursday evening (12/8 at 6:30 pm) and a ‘Deploy’ on Saturday (12/10 at 10 am). You can also donate money and materials. Currently, one of their big needs is solid core, exterior doors with minimal glazing. (If you donate as a result of this article, please let me know.) If you’re not in Atlanta, why not start a Mad Housers chapter in your area.
I appreciate my good fortune in having a comfortable and secure place to live (even if it is a building science atrocity at the moment). I also feel the need to help those who have less. Like many people, I’m reticent to give handouts when asked on the street, although I dig into my pocket occasionally anyway. When someone asks me for money because they’re hungry, I’ll sometimes take them to a store or restaurant and buy them food.
I prefer doing things that make more of a difference, though, like Heifer International, whose method is the proverbial teaching people how to fish instead of giving them already caught fish. The Mad Housers is a kindred organization. They aren’t just giving handouts to the homeless. They’re giving these people a chance to regroup and get some dignity by giving them a place they can call home.