Yakima shelter to offer private refuge for homeless people using modified shipping containers

Local business remodels containers for housing across the globe—now they're helping people in their community

YAKIMA, Wash. —  A Yakima homeless shelter is working to offer people living on the streets a safe, private alternative to typical dorm-style shelters by partnering with a local company that turns shipping containers into affordable housing.

Modular Transportable Housing has worked on projects for clients across the globe, including providing housing for the winter Olympics in Canada, for construction crews in rural Alaska and for farmworkers in Eastern Washington.

“I always like to say, when you’re driving down the highway and a truck goes by you with the shipping container on the back, you don’t really know what’s inside,” said Stacy Stoltenow, Vice President of MT Housing.

Now, the company is working on a new project closer to home: a two-bedroom housing unit that will offer up to four people experiencing homelessness in Yakima the chance to feel safe in their own space.

“I don’t know that we will ever be a solution for the homelessness, but if we can be a stop gap and if we can help some people stop their decline and get to a point where they can land on their feet, we’ve done what we need to do,” Stoltenow said.

Yakima shelter director says locking doors, privacy are key to getting more people off the streets

Mike Kay has come up with alternative solutions in the past to provide additional housing options for people experiencing homelessness, including using military-style tents for dorm-style living and repurposed classroom portables for dedicate youth and family shelters.

However, those options don’t give each person or couple their own privacy and a locking door, which are necessities for people who have experienced trauma or have had bad experiences with congregate living.

Kay said people who have been victims of human trafficking, domestic violence or childhood abuse often struggle to trust others and while they’re vulnerable on the street, they feel even more vulnerable when surrounded by other people in a shelter setting.

“Just knowing that you control who comes in and out of your room with that locking door is a big thing for folks,” Kay said.

That’s why Kay began looking into options that would allow those people to have their own space and security. He said he’s talked to people on the street that said they would come to Camp Hope and take advantage of their services if they could have those things.

“When we showed them these concepts and said would you come in off the street if we had something like this tiny home available for you?The answer has been, actually, yes I would,” Kay said.

Camp Hope to pursue modified shipping containers over Pallet shelter tiny homes

Kay had planned on offering that security using Pallet shelters, which are tiny homes that come with heat and electricity and are capable of housing one to two people at a time.

However, Kay recently decided against that option after he said the price went from $10,000 to $11,000 for one unit rated to last five to 10 years to $14,000 to $15,000 each.

“Frankly, we just found a local company that builds something that we think is more durable and it’s a more solid option for us,” Kay said.

Kay said partnering with MT Housing, they’re able to receive a custom-built housing unit that’s much bigger, houses up to four people and will last for 30 years or more — all for about $30,000.

“Here at Camp Hope, they can be in the tent if they’re more comfortable with that, they can be in the dormitory, or now they’re going to have a tiny home solution,” Kay said.

Another reason to go with the modified shipping containers, Kay said, is that they’re a local company providing jobs for people in Yakima and can work closely with Camp Hope to customize the unit to their needs.

“They got a proven track record of building things in drastic climates from Kuwait to Alaska, subarctic-type stuff,” Kay said. “It’s not a end-all solution to homelessness, but it’s definitely gives people another option.”

MT Housing working on its first homeless housing unit

MT Housing was created by Steve Forney in the late 1990s as part of an effort to create housing for seasonal farmworkers in Mattawa, which is located in Eastern Washington.

“The project consisted of 40 forty-foot-long steel shipping containers outfitted with plumbing, heating and cooling for farmworker families to live in. Modular Transportable Housing was asked to design, build, and oversee the logistics of the project. After 15 years of service, the units were sold and relocated, and continue to be utilized for farm worker housing,” the MT Housing website said.

Stoltenow said their housing units have been used across the country and internationally to provide safe, durable and transportable housing for anyone who needs it.

“You have the ability to have large rooms, dining halls, medical facilities, lounge lounges, clinics,” Stoltenow said. “Where an eight-foot wide room wouldn’t work, all of a sudden we can create a bigger space that has the ability to function for a purpose beyond just housing.”

Kay said while MT Housing is in the process of creating its first housing unit for Camp Hope, he hopes to eventually have 10 more units — including some to house families, since their family shelter is constantly at capacity and has a long waiting list.

“That changes the financial goal considerably, but again, we’re gonna do it in phases,” Kay said. “We want people that want to donate to come and see or reach out to me. I’d love for them to take the tour with Stacy and Steve and actually see exactly what we’re trying to do.”

Kay said several city council members have toured the MT Housing warehouse to get a better understanding of what they offer and what Camp Hope’s housing unit should eventually look like.

Yakima City Council member Patricia Byers said she approves of the new project and is looking forward to seeing it put into action.

“The tour was very educational and I was very impressed with the product and the price,” Byers said.

Byers said Camp Hope may be eligible to apply for some of the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act dollars to purchase more units. The shelter is currently doing some fundraising to be able to expand the project.

Kay said he’s been taking potential donors on a tour so they can get a closer look at what their donation will be doing to help the community.

For more information about Camp Hope or how to donate, visit their website here.