Graduate students construct recycled homeless shelters

By Darold Lee Bivens | Evergreen reporter
May 11, 2016

In an effort to help those in need in the Pacific Northwest, design and construction graduate students thought one person’s trash could be another’s shelter. With the homeless population growing in the Pacific Northwest, Omar Al-Hassawi, an instructor in the School of Design and Construction, said these projects gave students a chance to test their skillsets.

Focusing on the Seattle area, Al-Hassawi said students need to construct these shelters from a place of empathy. “Always put yourself in the place of these people,” he said. He said there are plans to further develop a pallet structure, created by one of the student groups, to contribute to Seattle’s tent city community. These students are Joshua Thomas, Jason Johnson and Carson Davis.

Spending a night in one of Seattle’s tent cities, Davis said stacks of around 100 pallets donated to these cities inspired him to create the structure, using the pallets in a more effective way. Not knowing what to expect, Davis said his stay felt a lot like camping, filled with great people and interesting stories. “A lot of people have a certain idea of what type of people are homeless,” Davis said. “I was surprised to see how many people proved that stereotype wrong.”

Most people who live in these tent cities have full-time jobs, he said, but can’t afford to live in Seattle. Davis said he talked to a mother, recently arrived from Fiji, who worked full time while her child went to school every day.

Thomas said he and the other students wanted to make shelters out of easily-accessible materials large in quantity, such as wooden pallets and recyclable materials. Each unit is made using 23 pallets, Thomas said, to create a family and single-room living space.

Recycled bottles can be found on the inside of the structures, Johnson said, adding beauty whenever sunlight bounces off them. Because residents in tent city need to relocate every three months, Davis said the walls are broken up into sections and can easily be taken apart and built back up again.

Some cities spend millions of dollars trying to address their individual housing problems for the homeless, Thomas said. However, he also said each unit would cost less than $500 to make. “We wanted to create a space where they could feel safe away from the elements, given somewhat privacy but also something to be proud of,” Thomas said. “This is your home, and it’s kind of an art piece in itself.”