State-of-the-Art Social Investing: Bringing the Homeless Home to a Green Community

The piecemeal approach to ending homelessness using temporary housing and shelters has long proven inadequate in the face of America’s formidable battle against this social issue, especially for American veterans. Nonprofit American Family Housing (AFH) has launched a new project that will provide permanent support — a powerful solution to help break the cycle of chronic homelessness. Potter’s Lane — the nation’s first multi-family permanent supportive housing project built with recycled shipping container — is bringing the way communities solve homelessness into the 21st Century. Built from converted cargo containers, Potter’s Lane features green architecture, aesthetic appeal and a design that encourages a sense of community pride all while addressing an important social issue.

Located at 15171 Jackson Street in Midway City, Calif., the complex is in the heart of Orange County, adjacent to American Family Housing’s offices. The eco-friendly housing at Potter’s Lane is prefabricated off-site. This approach has reduced development inefficiencies, while increasing sustainability and energy efficiency. It provides increased access to permanent supportive housing without the long development cycles associated with conventional site-built construction and financing.

GrowthPoint Structures: Modern Modular Homes

Potter’s Lane will offer both indoor and outdoor spaces, with beautiful gardens and native plants to provide a sustainable environment that is soothing and enjoyable. Through tranquil common areas, residents have a space to be together or alone while building a sense of community.

“The container units exceed the state’s criteria for energy efficiency,” says Lisa Sharpe, senior vice president of GrowthPoint Structures, a Los Angeles-based company that has built schools in California and custom homes from what could be called “gently used” cargo containers that carried dry goods to the area’s ports. Benefits include:

  • Cool roof technology reduces heat absorption by over 90 percent, reducing air conditioning electricity bills by 20 percent.
  • Ductless system eliminates potential air quality hazards that cause over 14 million cases of asthma in the USA.
  • The GrowthPoint lighting systems save 33 percent in energy costs compared to standard lighting
  • 85 percent of all components are reclaimed/recycled materials reducing landfill impact by 22-tons per unit.
  • LEED Platinum achievable.
  • Exceeds LEED Platinum requirements for reclaimed content by 55 percent.
  • Achieves 100 percent of LEED Innovation and Design Process criteria.

The entire complex is about 11,902 square feet and boasts attractive indoor and outdoor community spaces. Built on land owned by the organization, the 16-unit project will provide permanent housing and support services to 15 chronically homeless-10 set aside for veterans and 5 with veteran preference- plus one onsite manager. This affordable housing complex is part of a comprehensive program that works with the tenants on psychological, social, medical, employment and financial issues to climb out of the spiral of chronic homelessness by achieving long term housing stability and self-sufficiency.

Homes That Are Safe, Durable and Built to Last

Each unit at Potter’s Lane is being built using three 8-by-20-foot containers, with several sides removed for interior space to accommodate a bedroom/dining area, kitchen and bathroom. Floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls let in plenty of light. With each unit providing approximately 480 square feet of living space, a single person can live comfortably in a private unit.

  • Withstands 112-tons of compressive force and 17-tons of lateral force
  • 106 times stronger than building codes require
  • Resists weathering over 100 years
  • Interior wood walls systems resist damage and hold up to 250 lbs. at any point
  • Continuous door hinges eliminate failing standard hinges removing the need for repair
    and replacement
  • Inherent safeguards to resist vandalism and increase security

The Big Ideas Behind Little Spaces

The idea to explore the use of shipping containers was first proposed by AFH’s former housing development consultant, Gerald Turner, and AFH agreed to lead the innovation for the field.  It’s not a completely novel idea, and the movement toward micro-homes extends beyond housing the homeless. With books, photo albums and music stored on phones instead of on shelves and TVs reduced to flat screens, today’s homes do not require the same amount of living space to provide many of the expected comforts and amenities.

Shifting focus on permanent, modular, sustainable housing offers three important benefits to the community:

  • It saves money. Costs for emergency medical treatment, incarceration, detox programs and emergency shelters can be reduced if the homeless population is given regular treatment in a permanent home.
  • It frees resources for other uses. Emergency rooms can return to their original intended purposes, for example, when chronic homelessness is reduced and people live in a safer environment.  In addition, funds previously used for frequent users of emergency systems can now be used for homeless adults and families that need preventative or short term solutions.
  • It changes lives. Prospects improved dramatically for success in curing a person’s chronic homelessness due to mental illness, the ravages of wartime experiences or other factors.

Only the Beginning

This model can be replicated and other organizations across the country are in planning stages. It’s an innovative approach to development, because the structures are manufactured off-site while site work is simultaneously being completed. Then, the units are delivered to the site and are assembled to create housing— shortening the time it would normally take to build a structure. The units are designed to be very strong, sustainable and energy efficient.

This project has already drawn wide support from corporate and other large-scale donors who will be recognized for their contributions with their names on structures in the community. AFH welcomes additional donors, and in gratitude for their assistance, AFH is offering further naming opportunities within the Potter’s Lane development.

For more information or with interest in getting involved, visit or call +1 (714) 897-3221. 

ABOUT DONNA GALLUP: Donna Gallup, M.S.W., L.S.W., is president & CEO of American Family Housing and a lifelong human services advocate who has tenaciously worked to benefit disadvantaged individuals and communities. With decades of experience in housing and community development, fundraising and social services, Donna possesses a unique and comprehensive understanding of the issues affecting the homeless population in California and across the USA. A New Jersey native, Donna holds a Master’s Degree in social work from New York University and has worked extensively with special needs populations, including the homeless, adults with mental illness, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, vulnerable families, and persons living with the challenges of addiction. Within the last decade alone, she has helped secure over $21 million for property acquisition and rehabilitation, operations, and services to develop supportive housing for the homeless and mentally ill. Prior to joining AFH, Donna served as CEO of the LAMP Community located on Skid Row in Los Angeles and in December 2013, the ACLU SoCal honored her at its Bill of Rights Dinner with the Human Rights Advocate award.

Featured image: Homeless, Creative Commons license via Pixabay

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