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Ulmer Nest
Germany’s Ulmer Nest homeless shelter. Photograph: eignerframes

How pod houses are providing a way out of homelessness

There are new ways of city living in the wake of the pandemic

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver

Look around pretty much any city and you’ll see slanted benches, tactically placed armrests and spikes that embody the hardship of the world’s homeless population. You’d be forgiven for thinking architects, urban designers and local authorities have never given a second thought to – or in fact, actively tried to harm – the millions of rough sleepers who call these cities home.

Last year something changed. All over the world, local authorities threw open the doors of hotels to house homeless people during the pandemic. And that left people asking: if governments can do this now, why not in the Before Times – and the future?

Enter the ‘pod’ home: a halfway house between temporary accommodation and fully-fledged independent living that’s gaining traction as a sustainable way to provide a route out of homelessness. Earlier this year the German city of Ulm made headlines with its pods designed to shelter rough sleepers from the cold during winter. And now, following the successful rollout of its longer-term ‘modular homes’ across the USA, the Salvation Army has teamed up with Citizens UK and developer Hill Group to build 200 in Bristol, Manchester, London and elsewhere.

An exterior shot of the PLT hotel, showing outdoor seating around a wood wife, and floor-to-ceiling glass walls looking into the open plan kitchen and living room
SoloHaus, developed by the Salvation Army, Hill and Citizens UK. Photograph: Simon Harvey / Salvation Army

Each pod costs £47,000 to build, with just £5 per week running costs. Whereas much temporary accommodation operates on a night-by-night basis, rough sleepers can stay in them for up to two years. They can receive drugs, alcohol and mental health support, along with skills to help them move on to more permanent accommodation.

The only current site is Malachi Place in Ilford, Essex, which has given homes to 56 people since it opened in March last year. One is Dean Hudson, a former drug addict who’d been on and off the streets for the past 20 years. In March he shut the door of his flat in Grays, which he was struggling to manage, and walked up the A13 to Ilford. He has lived in one of the pods ever since. ‘It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,’ he says. ‘It’s got me back into real life. I’m 70 percent managing my bills. There’s no excuse not to be clean. I don’t feel second-class any more.’

For city authorities, there are other benefits. The homes are cheap, can easily slot into empty plots of land and be moved. As Dean says: ‘You basically can’t go wrong here.’

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