AUSTIN (KXAN)– An Austin company is a finalist for SXSW for a housing solution they hope can be used for people experiencing homelessness across the country.
Sam Haytham with KIRO ACTION has come up with a glass flex space that he says can be set up in four to six hours, anywhere, like backyards, parking lots or fields.
“There’s different uses for it: Backyard office, yoga studio, musicians room. But most importantly, it can also be an outlet for homelessness and addressing homelessness,” Haytham said. “You don’t need any special machinery. You don’t need any heavy cranes. It goes together like a Lego puzzle.
Haytham said the structure doesn’t need a permit in 95% of the country, because it falls under the size limit.
He said he’s already working with four other cities in the south to roll it out in the next sixth months. He’s also trying to work with his own city: Austin.
“When we looked at the City of Austin, we found that they have a lot of underutilized and unutilized city land,” Haytham explained. “So, we can take those empty parking lots, empty fields, we can deploy homes like this. And we can connect them directly to utilities, have a bathroom and kitchen.”
The structures can also be customizable with curtains, or opaque panels instead of glass and Haytham said many are already on standby for disaster response.
“We work with a large insurance company, and they’ve deployed this for crisis response,” he said. “They’re actually in storage right now, so if Texas gets hit by a hurricane, you might see these deployed in people’s yards or in malls in those cities.”
The structure is a finalist during SXSW’s Pitch Program under the Smart Cities category, and an example is being showcased at the Mexican American Cultural Center for the public to see.
But winning the SXSW competition isn’t Haytham’s ultimate goal. He hopes to partner with even more cities to help alleviate homelessness at cost or even free, through corporate sponsorships, and even bring a model of it to refugee camps overseas, using materials found there.
“When you look at a lot of homeless shelters right now, they are no more than a plastic tool shed or a tarp tent. That’s not dignified. You wouldn’t even put your dog in there. But we expect humans to be in there. This is pretty,” he said.
For the first time, a resource directory for Austin
Another resource also emerged this week: The Other Ones Foundation (TOOF) created an all-inclusive list of homeless service providers, programs and support organizations. It also includes a list of affordable housing.
The nonprofit provides aid, case management and work opportunities to people experiencing homelessness across the city.
They’re also building a shelter complex for the Esperanza Community, a state-sanctioned encampment site in Southeast Austin. They started looking for a list of groups they may be able to collaborate with.
“Figured that that was something that existed somewhere, and it wasn’t, and so we kind of got to work on building it,” said founder Chris Baker.
They hope their new database increases collaboration among organizations and decreases the duplication of services.
“I think a lot of times when we’re doing this work, we wind up unintentionally in silos, because we’re so hyper-focused on the people that we’re serving, and on the work that we’re doing,” Baker said.
For example, he said, his group can connect people with low-barrier jobs quickly, but if they needed menstrual products, they found out they can go to Flo Code, which collects and donates them.
“There are a lot of really great organizations that exist in this space, that I, as someone who works in this field every day, wasn’t even aware of,” Baker said.
He said they pulled names from some city lists, city audits, and reached out to groups they work with to add to the database.
It includes 117 groups involved in addressing homelessness in Austin-Travis County, as well as 155 affordable housing projects– but they’re asking for any group or project they missed to reach out to be included.
KXAN asked the City of Austin if they had a database like this, and they referred us to ECHO’s website. ECHO told KXAN they don’t have a database as comprehensive as TOOF’s new one.