Christian Wilson and his wife, Pamela, are on a mission to turn empty shipping containers into housing for the city’s homeless.
The couple, who are both retired from the maritime insurance business have worked over the years to help the homeless and others say there are a countless number of empty shipping containers in American ports all over the country, and Baltimore is no exception.
The Wilsons want to recycle those empty, unused and unwanted shipping containers into homes for the homeless.
“We are currently working on this project daily and have already received
a promise of financial assistance from PNC Foundation to create the first model,” said Christian Wilson, who now serves as executive director of Heart’s Place Services, Inc., a nonprofit that works with the homeless in helping provide food and other services.
The couple has dubbed the potential site of the project, “Hope Village.”
Wilson pointed out that other places around the world have successfully turned shipping containers into nice homes. Recently, the Aedis Real Estate Group in Los Angeles launched a plan for the first shipping container-built transitional housing project there.
The containers reportedly will be transformed in a truncated six-month construction timeline with plans that call for craftspeople to assemble the container components off-site while the building’s foundations are laid.
Off-site, the project will include the installation of finishes and fixtures and, once the foundations are prepared, the units would be crane-lifted into place.
Initial drawings of conversions by the Wilsons reveal steel shipping containers they say are “high-cube,” meaning that they can fit on a typical Baltimore City lot with a wraparound porch and small gated back yard.
“These containers can be retrofitted for about $20,000 to $25,000 and will be offered to the working homeless under a rent-to-own mortgage arrangement, because most people don’t understand that most homeless people work at minimum wages, but can afford a mortgage arrangement of $300 a month,” Wilson said.
From the drawings of the various sizes, Wilson noted that in the collection of containers are some that can be used as a mother/daughter arrangement and there is also a complex of small service housing for the mentally impaired with a living arrangement for a service provider.
“While this will not cure the homeless plight in the city, it will offer a beginning for many families that need suitable housing at a cost that they can afford,” he said. “We believe that with this model available for inspection by many interested personnel in the city and state that they will agree to participate.”
The couple has met with City Council, the Department of Housing, the city legal, business and planning departments whom they say enthusiastically support the project.
“We have already contacted a facility in Baltimore City who has the space to produce these homes under our direction and is available within the city, thus giving young men and women an opportunity to learn trades in construction,” Wilson said.
Initially, the Wilsons would like to produce 100 units and plan to work with organizations that provide services to the homeless to identity individuals to occupy the homes.
Current statistics show that there are approximately 3,000 homeless students in the city’s public school system. In 2016, the Abell Foundation identified 1,400 unattended youth walking the streets.
“As an aside, from the discussions that I have had with the financial markets, those engaged in the plight of the homeless families and children all have shown agreement with Hope Village as
a means of resolving not all, but have a very serious positive impact on the lives of children and adults within the city,” Wilson said.
“Every one of them that we have met with in the service industries agreed that this is a great solution to the problem. We cannot cure the mental issues, but we can give some dignity to a mother or father who is struggling with children in a car, on the streets in an abandoned building or couch surfing at a relative or friends house somewhere.
“We may even be able to have a positive impact on crime in this city because people will feel important enough that their government and society thought enough to help them in their time of need.”