Huts for the Homeless: A Low- Technology Approach for Squatters in Atlanta, Georgia
Amy Phillips and Susan Hamilton
Phillips and Hamilton write about the success of a low-cost housing program in Atlanta, Georgia. The Mad Housers and the homeless collaborated in a type of covert activity to build low-cost homes--"huts"--which challenged existing property laws. The ingenuity of both the volunteers and the hut dwellers is seen in their choice of concealed sites, their use of low-technology solutions, and their effective manipulation of the press. Recommendations are for more federal funding for single room occupancy and transitional housing.
Early in 1987, two architecture students from the Georgia Institute of Technology were researching the shelter options of Atlanta's homeless. They found many people living in cardboard boxes and makeshift plastic tents in isolated pockets of the city's industrial areas, which they chose in preference to the crowded night shelters that many homeless consider unsafe. After discussions with these people, the architecture students realized that they could improve on the boxes and tents by building low-cost, sturdy, plywood huts. A few friends were recruited, and on Saturdays the group began to prefabricate huts of their own design, using mostly scrap materials. Under cover of darkness, they moved the huts to sites chosen by their new owners and erected them quickly. Within an hour or so, the occupants had moved in, and the "guerrilla carpenters" were celebrating their latest construction project and planning the next week's work. These volunteers, all of whom had middle-class jobs, began calling themselves the "Mad Housers," a name reflecting their anger at the plight of the homeless, their willingness to use radical means to address the problem, and a pun on the "Mad Hatter" in Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland.
One of the authors of this chapter, Amy Phillips, is a charter member of the Mad Housers. Her initial involvement began at the first organizational meeting in early