Los Angeles Uses Shipping Containers to Temporarily House Homeless People

BY Ellie Swain


The economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased homelessness in Los Angeles. However, an organization called Flyaway Homes believes they can be part of the solution by transforming shipping containers into temporary housing for homeless people.

Flyaway homes describe itself as a non-profit creating solutions to the homelessness crisis. Chief Operating Officer Kevin Hirai said, “We recognize a solution is building enough permanent supportive housing rapidly at an affordable cost to make a difference.

A Project for Families in Need

The project is located in the 800 block of W 82nd Street. It consists of 16 two-bedroom housing units, a community room, and a manager’s unit. The 82nd Street Development is financed primarily with donations. LA County’s Housing Innovation Challenge also awarded a $1 million grant/forgivable loan to Flyaway Homes. A forgivable loan can be deferred, so there is no tight time limit on its repayment.

Once the development is complete, the project will accommodate 16 formerly homeless families consisting of up to 33 people and a resident manager.

The project will be master leased to The People Concern. The organization is one of Los Angeles’s biggest homeless service providers. They will be responsible for tenanting the units to families in need using Los Angeles County’s entry system.

People Concern will also provide the essential supportive services required to keep residents healthy and safe in their new homes. There will be a full-time, on-site resident services coordinator to help tenants who require help obtaining food, attending doctor’s appointments, seeking mental health treatment, transportation, and more. Anything tenants need to maintain their housing and live safely, The People Concern will assist with.

The on-site social work and manager is a facilitator and connector to resources. This will allow people living in the units to better reintegrate back into the community. After all, many of these families, veterans, and other vulnerable individuals may have spent significant amounts of time on the streets or sofa-surfing from home to home.

All 82nd Street tenants were due to move in before the end of 2020.

What Are the Benefits of Using Shipping Container Accommodation for Housing?

Recycled shipping containers are an affordable and quick way to provide housing to vulnerable people. Cheap accommodation that is quick and easy to set up is highly valued as it helps move people off the streets more quickly, especially during COVID-19.

Across the country and the world, other shipping container units are being set up, including in Detroit, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. Apartment complexes for homeless veterans have already been built in California’s Orange County and Nevada’s Las Vegas.

Another benefit of using shipping containers as accommodation is that they can easily be moved and stacked. That means the units can fit many odd sizes of land parcels. Shipping containers can easily and quickly be transformed into safe residences because the design, permitting, and construction process is short and straightforward.

Typically, the completion of construction is 12 to 15 months from site acquisition. This means vulnerable homeless people have less time to spend on the streets and can move into a temporary home more quickly.

For many homeless people and families, moving into a shipping container temporarily is a light at the end of the tunnel. After spending time on the streets or between homes, having a space to call your own can be life-changing.

What Are Critics of Shipping Container Accommodation Saying?

Many advocates are not in favor of using shipping containers to house homeless people. They say the small and cramped spaces aren’t sufficient for daily human use, plus they are unsuitable and unsafe.

During the warmer summer months, shipping containers can get stifling hot. During the colder winter months, they can become far too chilly. After all, shipping containers are made from metal, so they offer poor insulation and don’t retain heat.

The concept that some children are growing up in shipping containers for sometimes months at a time shows that there’s a severe problem with our housing system. Poor temporary housing, such as small shipping containers, can leave children feeling unsafe and anxious. This can adversely affect their health, learning, and psychological well-being.

Some shipping containers are no wider than a lorry, meaning that getting around the accommodation can be awkward. A lack of storage space can also often mean that shipping container accommodations can become messy easily. Some shipping container accommodations have surfaces piled high with clothes, toys, and other goods as there is simply no additional space. They are cramped and messy, with little room for children to play or do homework.

In many cases, residents have been evicted from bigger homes and bring belongings that fit a larger household.

Despite these criticisms, people living in shipping containers are often relatively happy. Yes, there are limitations, but they compare favorably with cramped bed and breakfast accommodation.

What Next?

It seems that shipping containers as an accommodation to house vulnerable homeless families and individuals have their benefits. This is especially true during the current pandemic where many people are losing jobs, being evicted, and becoming ill. Remaining on the streets or hopping between accommodations is unsafe.

Shipping containers are designed to be temporary respites for those experiencing homelessness, and that’s how they should remain. While shipping containers still have their value for helping vulnerable people in the short-term, governments must focus on providing affordable, safe, and liveable accommodations for people in need.

Temporary accommodations like the shipping containers must be accompanied by support and services to prevent people from feeling dumped. This will help determine whether shipping containers are successful in offering a successful transition to permanent housing.

Ellie Swain


Ellie is a freelance writer who grew up in London. She is passionate about ending homelessness and writes for various publications, non-profits, and marketing agencies to produce content. In her spare time, Ellie loves travelling to new places, exploring her city of London, and listening to live music.

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