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Community News: Mid-City

WESTLAKE : Housing Solution: Home, Sweet Dome?

June 06, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

After eight years of planning, lobbying and cajoling, activist Ted Hayes has moved a step closer to his goal of setting up a temporary village for the homeless using domes as shelters.

Four of the white fiberglass domes, 20 feet in diameter and 12 feet high with 314-square-feet of floor space, were displayed last week in a Westlake parking lot. Not far away, at a homeless encampment beside the Harbor Freeway, 18 of the domes will be erected this summer, pending final approval from city planners.

The pilot project, funded by private sources that choose to remain anonymous for now, will provide shelter to 29 homeless people selected by Hayes, founder of Homeless U.S.A.

The waterproof domes are part of a four-phase plan aimed at getting homeless people off the streets and out of ramshackle encampments. Residents of the dome village will be referred to social and health services and will receive help in finding jobs.

For those unable or unwilling to return to mainstream society, Hayes envisions alternative living arrangements on closed military bases where residents could be employed building domes.

"People's minds have been set to work in traditional ways," Hayes said. But traditional solutions to homelessness, such as large shelters, rarely help people alter their circumstances, he said.

David V. Adams, president of Morgan Adams Inc., a Westlake-based management company, was also frustrated by government's failure to deal with homelessness. He helped Hayes get funding and draw up a business plan for the pilot project, which offers the prospect of a safe shelter for a homeless person.

"The domes will give people stability and provide them with the basic elements they need--a place to sleep, go to the bathroom, wash their clothes, store their belongings," said Adams, who volunteers as executive director of Homeless U.S.A.

In addition to the residential domes furnished with beds and chairs, the encampments will also feature utility domes equipped with washing machines, stoves, refrigerators, toilets and showers.

Most of the domes will use electricity, but a few will use solar power, said Randy Morrison of Future Group Inc., whose president, Craig Chamberlain, invented the domes.

Each residential dome costs $6,750 unfurnished; furnishings, shipping and assembly bring the total cost per dome to about $10,750. Each dome consists of 21 pieces held together with Teflon bolts and can be assembled in three to four hours, Morrison said.

The Red Cross used similar domes after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California to provide emergency services, Morrison said. A few others were sold as temporary shelter to people whose homes were destroyed or damaged in Hurricane Iniki, which lashed Hawaii last September.

Hayes said the domes have passed inspection under the city's building and safety codes, as well as planning requirements. He is awaiting approval of the layout of the temporary village from the city Planning Department.

If the project is successful, the next step would be to set up domed villages in other parts of the city with the understanding that each village would be temporary.

"That way we could cool the fever of NIMBYism (not in my back yard)," Hayes said. "People would know that the domes won't be in their neighborhood forever."

The pilot project is scheduled to last at least three months. Temporary villages erected thereafter will have a one-year limit at their sites.

Dome residents will provide security for their village, prohibit drug use or sales and participate in cleanups and recycling efforts around the site, Hayes said. Residents who have jobs or other sources of revenue will pay rent of 15% to 20% of their net income.

Hayes compares the project to the early phase of the space program. "We're earthonauts," he said of the pioneering homeless group. Adams, more of a pragmatist, said the domes are worth a try. "If anyone has a better idea, I'm willing to listen," he said.

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