Shipping containers proposed as housing units for the homeless in Sarasota and Manatee counties

Sarasota resident tells Continuum of Care group about the potential, citing worldwide availability of the units

The Popular Mechanics website shows a container transformed into a home. Image from popular
The Popular Mechanics website shows a container transformed into a home. Image from popular

If Amsterdam and Vancouver can do it, why not Sarasota?

While living in Amsterdam for 13 years, Robert Horrow was fascinated with the use of shipping containers to create a housing community for students. Why not use containers to house the homeless, he wondered.

That was the question Horrow — who recently moved back to Sarasota — posed last week during the regular Continuum of Care meeting organized by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness.

During his Feb. 24 presentation to representatives from agencies in Sarasota and Manatee counties that offer assistance to the homeless, Horrow pointed out that many homeless individuals prefer not to go to a shelter; they want some type of residence, which will help them gain self-esteem.

A 20-foot shipping container will house two people comfortably, he continued. Anyone reading U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines will find that a shipping container transformed into a home will meet all the necessary requirements for housing, he added.

In response to a question about cost, Horrow said a unit turned into a residence — including a kitchen, windows and doors —with all the labor factored in would be about $22,000.

“It’s been done all over the world,” he told the approximately 50 people attending the meeting. “The shipping industry is dead,” he added, so containers are readily available.

Two million containers “are sitting in dry dock all,” Horrow said.

Robert Horrow. Image from Facebook
Robert Horrow. Image from Facebook

He suggested people look on YouTube for videos showing 20-foot shipping container homes. “It’ll blow you away.”

(One video, found during a Sarasota News Leader search of YouTube, provides a detailed look at a container transformed into a home for about $32,000. It contains a kitchen with stainless steel fixtures, bamboo flooring and energy-efficient windows, according to the narrator.)

Suncoast Partnership Executive Director Leslie Loveless noted that she and her staff have posted information on the nonprofit organization’s website about such housing in Denmark.

Amsterdam has 1,000 containers turned into dorm rooms, with as many as seven structures stacked on top of each other, Horrow continued. The residences are very popular with students, he said. “They won’t live anyplace else.”

The City of Vancouver is working on a plan to create 300 container homes, he noted.

(A CBC News story posted on Feb. 22 discusses the city’s Request for Proposals “for a company to build and install shipping container-sized modular housing units to ‘temporarily’ house the homeless.”)

Continuum of Care members gather for the Feb. 24 meeting at New College. File photo
Continuum of Care members gather for the Feb. 24 meeting at New College. File photo

After securing the containers, Horrow said, people can teach homeless individuals interested in living in the units how to handle the necessary electrical and plumbing work. “It’s basic stuff.”

Additionally, insulation easily can be inserted into the containers, he noted.

“Let’s get together and start looking at a new vision,” he told the Continuum of Care representatives.

“I think we’ve got a great concept here,” Loveless told the attendees at the conclusion of Horrow’s presentation.

In a brief interview with the News Leader following the meeting, Horrow said he saw no reason why container homes would not work in Sarasota and Manatee counties. He pointed to details on the Tempohousing website regarding the possibilities. The site notes, “Shipping containers … are ideal to convert to comfortable homes. Everywhere transportable, sturdy, can be stacked high and it is no doubt the most sustainable way [of] building homes.”

A day later, during a telephone interview with the News Leader, Horrow said, “I got good feedback” after his presentation at the Continuum of Care meeting. He feels it is more likely at this point that Manatee County leaders will work with him than those in Sarasota County, he added, referencing the “political issues” in this community.

The City and County of Sarasota have been divided for the past two years on their approaches to dealing with homelessness issues. The County Commission remains focused on establishing a shelter, while the City Commission has begun pursuing a Housing First approach.

In the meantime, Horrow told the News Leader, he plans to get in touch with representatives of Tempohousing.

The United States is “the greatest country in the world, and we can’t house our homeless?” he said in the Feb. 24 interview. “How can you have people on the street with nowhere to go.”