Hope on Wheels project aims to help homeless

  • Melinda Shaw of Florence and BJ Church of Northampton work on assembling a humanity pod as part of a project to provide the local homeless population with a modular live-in unit. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • BJ Church of Northampton attaches a puncture-resistant wheel to a humanity pod, a modular sleeper and storage camper, at her garage in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Melinda Shaw of Florence and BJ Church of Northampton spend a Saturday morning building a prototype humanity pod as part of an effort to provide local homeless residents with DIY modular live-in units, in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Melinda Shaw of Florence looks over BJ Church of Northampton as she installs a flat-free wheel onto a humanity pod, a modular sleeping unit designed for homeless people. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Melinda Shaw of Florence and BJ Church of Northampton work on assembling a humanity pod as part of a project to provide the local homeless population with a modular live-in unit. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • BJ Church of Northampton installs a flat-free wheel onto a humanity pod, a modular sleeping unit designed for unhoused people. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • BJ Church of Northampton adjusts a flat-free tire with the help of Melinda Shaw of Florence, as they assemble a modular sleeping and storage unit for their humanity pods project. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • An example of a humanity pod as depicted on the humanitypods.org website. HUMANITYPODS.ORG

Staff Writer
Published: 4/12/2021 6:39:44 PM

NORTHAMPTON — For people experiencing homelessness, finding a safe, sheltered place to stay is a constant challenge. In an effort to help address this issue, Northampton resident Melinda Shaw envisions a set of portable, “alternative homes,” comprising a bike and camper pod, as a transitionary step between homelessness and a more traditional living situation.

Shaw started the project, called “Hope on Wheels,” in response to what she sees as inadequate resources available to the homeless community. Currently, Shaw is finishing up the first “humanity pod,” but intends to have 20 made by the end of the year.

Part of Shaw’s inspiration for the project came from her work with First Churches of Northampton, where she helped to run a cot shelter and distribute resources to the homeless. As Shaw got to know some of the people who waited on the church’s front steps, she noticed several barriers to shelter.

“What I found was that even though the city sometimes puts up the shelter, there were a lot of people who fell through the cracks,” Shaw said.

Some people experiencing homelessness are unable to stay at shelters, Shaw said, and high rents in the area make it difficult to find housing options.

“I just realized that I could spend all my time trying to get people to housing,” Shaw said, “because there isn’t affordable housing in the area.”

Shaw’s “humanity pods,” which were first designed by artist Paul Elkins, would temporarily serve as the missing “intermediary step” towards a more permanent home, Shaw said, creating “some semblance of a structure that would provide safety and security.”

The pod is designed to be lockable and provide “a secure and cozy place to sleep, relax, cook and eat meals, and store possessions,” Shaw says on the project’s website, humanitypods.org. Shaw was also inspired by similar concepts in other parts of the country.

Hailey Mire, a Northampton resident who is currently homeless, said that the pods seem like a better alternative to tents.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” Mire said, adding that the pods seem like they would offer better protection from rain and snow. “I would really like to try it,” she added. Shaw, a friend of Mire’s, hopes to provide Mire with one of the pods.

The mobility of the pods also “makes a huge difference,” Mire said, “because honestly, I have experienced tents being stolen before, and that’s a problem. That you can bring it with you on your bicycle … that’s even better than a tent.”

Kelly Kane, another member of the Hope on Wheels team, said that the pods have the potential to be “life changing.”

“Your own personal dignity is so important,” said Kane, who was once homeless for a brief time. “It’s so important to give people an opportunity to have their own space.”

The mobility of the pods is also a valuable feature, Kane said, noting that it can help people access food supply and areas where they can have privacy.

To achieve building 20 pods this year, Shaw needs volunteers and funding, she said. Shaw recently put out a call for teams to register to build the pods. Registration comes with a $500 fee, which Shaw said is approximately the cost of constructing the pod. Teams must also provide a used bike. Interested volunteers can register on the project’s website humanitypods.org.

Shaw has one team about to register, she said, but thinks that the project will be more attractive once her first pod is completed. At this point, Shaw intends to bring the pod downtown to demonstrate its use and answer questions about the project. She also plans to hold a work day on April 17, where people can help with building whether they are registered or not.

In addition to bridging this financial gap, Shaw also is trying to work with the city to establish places where the pods can be parked. If she cannot reach an agreement with the city, she is considering an arrangement where residents “adopt” a pod and allow the owner to park on their property for at least part of the day.

While the project currently comes with a registration fee, Shaw hopes it can eventually grow to the point that people experiencing homelessness can apply to build the pods as paid work.

Shaw has set up a basic application for the pods, which she said is mostly used to determine that the applicant intends to use the pod.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2020 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy