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The latest concept for shipping containers in Miami? A shelter for the homeless

Repurposed shipping containers have become a popular option for everything from pop-up events to street markets. Folks are even using them as alternative housing. They’ve been set up in places like Omni Park and the Wynwood Yard, and now a local company is considering the containers for a more radical use: housing the homeless.

Places like CaliforniaBaltimore and Dallas have already experimented with the idea. CEPODS wants to bring it to Miami.

CEPODS is the brainchild of Tian Mao, who saw our unsheltered population – aka people living on the street, without access to a shelter – stubbornly stuck at about 1,000 people for the past few years. He’s hoping containers will provide a cheaper, more adaptable solution that can get them off the streets faster.

WHAT IT IS: Tian started CEPODS back in 2011, after years of working in real estate. He sees containers as a smaller-scale fix for issues like affordable housing, programming space for events, and for dealing with homelessness.

CEPODS is already working with the Opa-locka Community Development Corporationin their Thrive Innovation District to build a container market for merchants and farmers working out of Opa-locka’s Thrive Urban Farm.

WHERE THE IDEA CAME FROM: Tian has lived in SoFlo since 2002, most of that time living in Miami Beach. He says that when he would drive around and see abandoned properties and homeless people, he felt like there was a missed opportunity.

“We’ve got enough land in this town to do it,” Tian said. “Take a piece of land and end the blight on this block.”

So he began reaching out to organizations like the Downtown Development Authority and building officials at the county and city level to explore whether some of that land could house shipping containers to use as short-term shelters.

WHAT IT TAKES: Building a stock of about 10 to 15 containers takes between $2 and $3 million to build. Tian says they plan to keep costs low by using recycled materials for things like hurricane impact windows and furniture.

Each container would be about 320 square feet and hold four to six beds, bunk style. The plan is to set them up on a lot, with a communal kitchen and bathroom area, hostel-style.

Tian compares his model, which could house up to about 50 people, to multi-year housing projects that can cost millions. A newly renovated project at Camillus House that opened last year, for example, cost about $8 million to build and can house up to 100 people.

HOW HE’LL GET STARTED: Tian said he’s looking at available county-owned properties – particularly blighted or undeveloped properties. There’s more than 600 vacant properties owned by the county and CEPODS hopes to find spaces where additional development can happen around their containers.

WHAT NEXT: Tian said he has most of the resources he needs for building the homeless shelter containers but still needs to lock down a location and perfect the designs.

He and the team hope to do that and start work with engineers in the next three months so they can start shopping the shelter project to local organizations and county officials in the fall. CEPODS hopes to have an installation in place by the beginning of next year.

And Tian recognizes that CEPODS could never fully replace larger shelters.

“I’m not saying we’re the only solution,” Tian said. “I’m not thinking of how to improve a homeless shelter. I’m just looking to give [the homeless] their own place.”

If you want more info on the concept, you can visit the Cepods website or check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

By Lance Dixon
Lance is the Storytelling Producer for The New Tropic