I’ve often told budding entrepreneurs that success in business is a path laid with bricks of failure.
You must train yourself to see each failure as one more hurdle you’ve overcome to get closer to your success.
Failure has incredible value.
“I’ve made every mistake in the book,” is a common phrase you will hear lifelong, successful entrepreneurs say.
You will never learn a lesson more thoroughly than living through doing it wrong.
In the case of the city forcing us to take down our tents, that isn’t so much a failure on our part. But it is a setback just the same.
The city is exhibiting very similar traits to other addicts. “We don’t have a problem. We are fine. It’s other people that are causing us problems.”
The city is addicted to a system that is getting in the way of them leading “their best lives.” That is causing them to live a life “beneath human dignity.” The system is a drug that has taken over every part of their lives. (For reference, both of those quoted phrases are things the city has chastised the homeless with for wanting to live in a tent instead of a shelter.)
We cannot stop helping the city wake from their self-induced comma of ignoring the human suffering plaguing their poor citizens.
But we can also not stop moving forward. We must always look forward to the path we can take today while we make plans for new paths tomorrow.
Abandoned, broken, left-for-dead houses.
These are the low hanging fruit of helping shelter the homeless of Akron today.
We are SO close to closing on a house from the Land Bank. It will cost us about $4700 to purchase the house. And we can legally put up to 5 non-related people in the house. That is less than $1000 per person for the structure. Then the utilities and taxes will probably cost around $400/month. That’s a pretty efficient model.
There are no special requirements to house people in houses. We don’t need occupancy permits. We don’t need fire inspections. We can just put people in houses.
And because we are a completely private operation we can do things that organizations with federal money can’t do.
We don’t need any identification. We don’t need background checks. If you are legally allowed to live in society you can be in our house.
Obviously, our houses will need rules. We’ve learned that very well in our tent village.
But each house could have different rules.
Maybe we have a house that is for people that work at night.
Maybe we have a house that is Christian-based, or Muslim-based, or atheist.
Maybe we have a house that is for people recovering from opiate addiction and we make sure we always have Narcan on site to be ready for an overdose.
These houses become a new kind of emergency, transitional sheltering concept that is different from most other sheltering concepts.
Because there are only a small number of people in a house we can more easily cater to the specific needs of those particular people. They can have fewer rules than a large, monolithic shelter because they aren’t ‘catering to all people from all different kinds of walks of life. The rules can be specific to these few people and their specific situations.
I’m calling these: Micro Shelters.
They instantly get people off the streets in-doors. But they are tailored to the specific person.
So, as an example, a person would come to our day center (which is not going anywhere and is going to be better than ever). We would ask them a couple basic questions:
- Are you currently using any drugs or alcohol?
- Are you in recovery?
- Are you coming from an abusive relationship?
- Are you currently in danger?
- Do you have any mental health issues we should be aware of?
- Do you work? If so, what are your hours?
These kinds of questions would allow us to put a person in the best Micro Shelter for their needs.
I envision an ecosystem where a person never has to spend a single night on the streets.
Then once a person is in one of our Micro Shelters we would have case workers that would go from house to house helping these people get on the list for housing, get mental health treatment, get addiction treatment.
This model is a low impact solution for the surrounding neighborhood. In fact, we are looking at purchasing a known drug house and turning it into a Micro Shelter.
By taking the worst houses of the neighborhood we can potentially be a positive influence for that local community.
Our foundational principle is that we are “by the homeless for the homeless.” So we will be teaching these people to repair and remodel these houses.
They will be learning skills and will be a needed part of the Micro Shelter program.
“When a door closes, God opens a window.”
You must always look for the window.
This Micro Shelter house model is a really exciting and innovative strategy that has a lot of potential in a city with abandoned, low-cost real estate inventory.
We also are trying to get a conditional use for a house that we currently own that would allow us to put up to 10 people in it. If this works and we could apply it to other houses, we could instantly double our capacity with each house we buy.
The hurdles we will face are strong personalities in close quarters. Homeless people are strong-willed, independent people. They can definitely get along with other people. But they also can definitely clash pretty significantly with each other. We will need to work on giving people even a small bit of private space of their own in these Micro Shelters. I have some ideas on that. But that’s for another time.
I am so excited for what the future holds. I have very little space in my mind and emotions to spend much time looking backwards. I truly believe there is a need for triage tents to at least temporarily get people off the streets and out of danger. So, I am not giving up on tents or even tiny, transitional homes. But that is not today.
Today is houses.
Today is exploring and testing the concept of Micro Shelters.
I hope this idea excites you like it excites me. Because, truthfully, the only way we do this is as a community together. The government, from top to bottom, has no interest in being part of a plan to help people living abandoned on our streets. We, the people of Akron and America, are their only hope.