Jul 28, 2023 - Climate

See the solar-powered homeless shelter made from shipping containers

A shipping container with doors.

Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

Twenty unhoused people in Phoenix are set to move into a new, solar-powered shelter constructed out of shipping containers next week.

What's happening: The city of Phoenix ordered four prefabricated shelters from local company Steel + Spark last year and installed the first outside St. Vincent de Paul's Washington Street shelter this week.

  • It has 10 single rooms and six double rooms for couples.

Why it matters: This type of interim independent living provides an important step for unhoused people between staying in congregate shelter and building the confidence to enter permanent housing, St. Vincent de Paul chief program officer Jessica Berg told Axios Phoenix.

  • "Some folks might be ready on paper, but they're scared to move on. This gives people a chance to pilot and remember what it's like, or maybe for the first time, to live on their own," she said.

How it works: The shelters, called "X-Wings," are made of four containers in an "X" configuration. Each container has multiple sleeping compartments with a bed (or two, in double rooms), desk, outlet and storage shelves. Each room is individually air conditioned.

  • The entire unit is solar powered so it doesn’t need to be connected to the electric grid, making it easy to move where needed.
  • The unit doesn't have bathrooms or kitchens, so it needs to be near a facility that does.

What they're saying: "We're all architects and have been doing traditional buildings for 30 years now. No project that I've ever been involved with feels as good as this one," said Steel + Spark lead architect Zach Burns.

The intrigue: All four X-Wings and a 200-bed structure were to be installed at a new shelter at 22nd Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road intended to open this summer.

  • Yes, but: The city found methane gas at the site and stopped construction last month. Officials tell us they are looking for a new area to build the shelter, but have not yet found a site.

What's next: Scott Hall, Phoenix's deputy homeless solutions director, said the city decided to deploy the X-Wing at St. Vincent de Paul in the interim to make immediate use of the shelter and see how it works.

  • He added the city may find additional places to put the other three wings, but did not yet have details.

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