Workshop discusses pallet home village

Terry RogersGovernment, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Milford City Council discussed creating a possible pallet village, similar to this one in Georgetown, to address homelessness (Photo courtesy of Springboard Collaborative)

At a recent workshop, Milford City Council heard from Judson Malone, Executive Director of Springboard Collaborative, about a pallet village constructed in Georgetown designed to address the homeless issue. Springboard Collaborative works in partnership with other agencies, including First State Community Action and others to not only provide housing for those who are experiencing homelessness, but also help them reach goals that could provide them a steady income, housing and a stable lifestyle.

“What would a city council meeting be that you talked about pallet homes and I didn’t have something to say?” Martha Gery, founder of Milford Advocacy for the Homeless said during the public comment portion of the workshop. “So, I’m here to just thank you again, for continuing your efforts on helping us to solve some of our housing problem, whether it’s for the homeless, or people who are low income and can’t afford the housing. And so, your efforts are greatly appreciated. And we’ve been working, talking with Springboard and other organizations and we continue to look to having more and more movement in that area and we thank you for your continued support.”

During public comment, there was concern expressed by resident Lucius Webb about building a pallet village in Milford.

“My concern about pallet or whatever it is, is it’s very important for us to take care of our own, but do we need to take care of the mass migration that is coming into this area from other parts of the country and other countries. So how we look at this is very important. And we ought to look at how we do it,” Webb said. “An area that preserves values as in point five of the strategic plan and also in point two of the strategic plan, how we also ensure safety for the current residents. And when you design a program like this, it should be an area where there is transportation available for people who come to these areas they can get jobs, which helps them restore dignity and a way they can contribute to the community. But we don’t want to build something so large that people will just flood here, and it will change the dynamics of the community.”

Although public comment was accepted at the start of the meeting. Council was not able to answer questions or address statements made by the public. After the public comment portion, Malone provided details about the village that opened about six months ago in Georgetown.

“So, these are manufactured by a company called Pallet. They’re actually panelized sleeping cabins. They come shipped to the job site on massive pallets, hence the name. They’re not made out of wooden pallets, and we have 40 of these cabins in a village setting,” Malone said, providing a photo of the homes used in the Georgetown village. “And I’ll go into a little bit of detail about what that means. But the very basic thing that they do is they address a dignified place for someone to be that has formerly been chronically unsheltered in tent cities and encampments around Georgetown.”

The Georgetown pallet village is located on the property of First State Community Action. The cabins have heat, air conditioning and electricity, but no bathroom or cooking facilities. There is a communal bathroom in the village and a temporary community kitchen. A permanent kitchen is planned in the future. Recently, the village held a “Paint the Town” event to paint the pallet homes bright colors which made a difference in how the homes looked. Malone explained that the project had a three-prong approach.

“First attainable housing. Now, in a world that we wished we live in, that attainable housing would be a place that they could afford to rent, but we don’t have that,” Malone said. “So an interim solution is what we come up with a pallet village is something that can be constructed in under a year as opposed to a low-income housing development, that might take many years.”

The second prong includes comprehensive care with Springboard focusing on helping those in the village navigate the system.

“We focus on every homeless person who comes into the village. We ask them what their plan is. We don’t tell them what their plan should be. They tell us “I want to work on my addictions.” “I want to save money.” “I want to get a job.” They choose from a set of goals and our navigators, depending on what their needs are, we will connect them with LaRed, which is a federally qualified health center, with Beebe which is a major hospital network, with First State who provides case management services with DelOne who comes out every week and helps people open up bank accounts, with Perdue and other employers who come on site and do job fairs,” Malone said. “So, that’s important and then also we want to connect them to education and employment opportunities because to be self-sufficient, you need income. And so, some people do have benefits coming in because of health conditions or whatever. But some people just need to get work, to have a job.”

At the village, participants are provided three meals per day and there is a community garden on site. Those who have been provided a pallet home are required to clean the showers, take out garbage and keep the area clean. They help serve food and are able to volunteer in the community garden if they choose to do so. Malone explained that they are very proud of the village and very protective of the area. They also work with Brandywine SPCA and are considering a dog run to allow pets. They currently have nine cats as they are very comforting with the SPCA providing all veterinary care. Delaware Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAM) as well as Assertive Community Teams (ACT) work with those who need intensive support while the Georgetown Police Department imbedded clinicians also provide services in the village.

“We’ve had 11 people who found permanent housing in the space of six months. Another four, we had to send on to a more intensive care environment, it was not going to work for that particular population. The personal impacts, we’ve had a total of 73 people in six months have come through. Of those, 50 or 79% have not returned to unsheltered homelessness, 36 or 52% have received substance abuse or mental health treatment,” Malone said. “This is a low barrier shelter, we take you regardless of your current user status. We just demand you don’t use on site. But for a lot of people, it was very difficult to get through the night. And so, we had to, in some cases, we had to intervene and say look, you can’t bring drugs in. We’re going to give you a choice go get treatment. But in other cases, they came to us and just said “I’m ready.” This program of dignified cabins, comprehensive case services, support facilities like bathrooms, and community rooms that’s been repeated over and over across the country over 100 villages now. But one of the things we kept being told was, you will see a transformation from somebody leaving the horrible conditions of living unsheltered. Within weeks their attitude changes, they become a lot more relaxed, less stressful. They walk better, it’s been an amazing experience. And there’s some other data here. We’ve reconnected a lot of them with medical providers. They just didn’t have medical services before.”

Another service provided at the village is getting identification for those who may have lost it in the past. Malone addressed Webb’s concern about undocumented people flooding into the area, pointing out that those who are in the village are actually citizens, but they just lived in the woods where they have had to abandon a tent and belongings at some point, they were robbed or simply could not keep up with personal information that proved identity. By helping them get identification, Springboard has provided them with the ability to get a job and a bank account.

“We’ve only had nine 911 calls in six months. There’s still a homeless population in the tents around town. They get calls every day,” Malone said. “t’s just a dramatic difference. We have had two people who overdosed, but where our staff is trained in the use of Narcan, we stabilized them, so no one has died of an overdose in the village. We have a mostly male population at 60 percent with a female population of 38 percent. There is a wide age range with the oldest gentleman 78 years old and it is kind of hard to imagine him living a homeless life and get tot that age and still has to live in that situation.”

Malone discussed another form of housing other than the pallet home created by a company called Boss Cubez. These are more durable and have a higher fire rating than pallet homes. They are also easier to place as they are self-leveling and can actually be set up in a parking lot. They are also easier to assemble and disassemble, allowing more flexibility on property when changes need to be made. Councilman Jason James asked if Springboard encouraged residents to participate in community events.

“Number one, they’re not residents. Because this is not housing and they don’t have a lease or a tenant relationship with us, they’re participants in our program. And I think I alluded to this earlier they kind of self-organize themselves, and they do volunteer hours that they keep the bathrooms clean. They take out the trash, they make sure there are no cigarette butts on the ground. They help serve the meals and clean up afterwards. And we actually assign just like five hours a week per person. And some of them, now that they’re working it’s kind of hard for them to find the volunteer hours because they’re busy,” Malone said. “But by and large, most everybody is working. We have a like a quarter of an acre community garden. Our food service manager is also former organic farmer. So, it’s beautiful garden, but it’s not required work. We want the gardening experience to be fun if they want to do it. But that’s another activity and then as it just so happens to Saturday, Georgetown is having the community cleanup and we have a number of volunteers that go participate in that.”

Councilman James asked how the village was funded beyond the grant given to them by the town of Georgetown. Malone explained that they raise money from foundations and other donors, but that is a short-term strategy. Springboard’s goal is to eventually be fully funded by municipalities, counties and the state, similar to how other pallet villages are funded around the country. When they decided to put the pallet village in Georgetown, Malone stated they did not get much negative feedback from the community when they decided to place it at First State Community Action, but they did get some pushback when they were considering a church property in the country. They ultimately decided the church property would not work as it was on septic and was too far away from services. Councilman James then asked if other solutions were considered other than a pallet village.

“Well originally when we still are working towards tiny home communities, because they have a bathroom, they have a kitchen, they’re 200 to 400 square feet and potentially very affordable to people but that takes years. It takes a long time to get that done,” Malone said. “A structure that maybe back in the 1980s that were called SROs, single room occupancy. The five story building where I had row after row of rooms, and a hall and a shower down the hall down at the end of the hall. And many people credit the rise in unsheltered homelessness is when they shut those down and made them illegal. But rapidly deployable in one day with the pallets was a benefit. And with this new product, I think they’re going to be even more rapidly deployable and more flexible about where they can go.”

One of the people living in the pallet village has been homeless for 20 years, Malone said. Another for nine years while the average time of homelessness was six months. Many of them found a sense of community in homeless encampments in the woods where they looked out for each other. With the pallet village, they still have that sense of community, but when they step out of the cabin, they are still in the outdoors, and it seems to help with the transition from a tent city to permanent housing. Councilman Andy Fulton stated that he liked the idea of the self-leveling option as the site work would be much less intensive.

“To that point, the solution seems to me like it’s for somebody that’s an individual with maybe mental health or drug dependency or whatever caused them to get to where they’re at,” Councilman Todd Culotta said. “What about the single mom or single parents with multiple children that are waiting for Section Eight housing or something like that. What is the solution there and while this all looks great, I mean the quality of the housing. If you’re saying well, we’re going to take care of the homeless people that doesn’t mean more homeless people can’t come and get in the queue.”

Malone explained that there were still homeless encampments around Georgetown and that the pallet village did not completely eliminate the problem. Staff at the pallet village have been working with the homeless for some time, getting to know them and they are consistently visiting those encampments and encouraging those living there to join the village. Councilman Culotta still felt there were flaws in the pallet village plan.

“Well, I mean, I agree with you that a do nothing approach is not the best. However, creating by default an incentive to say well, at least I’ll have housing, at least I’ll have food. We don’t want to get in the habit of that and nothing is in a vacuum,” Councilman Culotta said. “I mean, there’s going to be or there could be issues with the fallout of what’s around it and the people affected around it. It’s great if I say this is great in Georgetown, but I live in Milford. I don’t see it every day. What about the people who live right next to it? What about the people that it affects their property values or their or their ability to feel safe in their neighborhood?”

The pallet village in Georgetown is located near a working class community known as Kimmeytown that was going through a resurgence, Malone explained. Habitat for Humanity was currently constructing 11 homes a block from the village, so property values are actually improving. Many houses near the pallet village are undergoing renovation which indicates the village did not lower property values and that the community accepted it well. Mayor Archie Campbell asked Malone to describe lockers placed at the entrance.

“As I said, we’re a low barrier shelter. You don’t have to be free of drugs or alcohol, you don’t have to be clean or sober. But you’re not supposed to use paraphernalia or drugs on site,” Malone said. “So, we give them an opportunity, no questions asked. They have a little box before they enter the village. They got their own lock on it like and put their stuff away and then come in. Otherwise, they would, rather than throw it away, they have a tendency to smuggle it in. It’s not 100% solution. We still have people to bring stuff in but our staff is pretty good. They figure them out sooner or later.”

Councilman Culotta questioned whether this was a violation of the civil rights of the residents.

“How do you do that? How do you regulate a place without violating their civil rights to being searched and things like that? Because think about it, it’s nowhere right now. So we got to find the place to put it and once we find that place to put it, we need to be sure it doesn’t create a problem,” Councilman Culotta said. “It’s in the proximity of other things around it. So, if you say I’m sorry, if you say that okay, put your we don’t care what it is put it in your locker and come on in who stopped him from walking out there in the middle of night using it coming back in?”

Malone admitted that this sometimes happened at the village. Those living there could not use drugs at the entrance, but they could retrieve the items and go into the woods nearby. They don’t perform bag or crevice searches and simply rely on those living there to be honest. If they are found with drugs or paraphernalia, they can be asked to leave the premises. Councilman Culotta asked if the village fell under the state’s landlord tenant code when it came time to evict someone.

“If I’m a landlord and I rent an apartment out somebody and they don’t pay their rent, they don’t whatever and I have to evict them there’s a whole process for that. I can’t just change the locks on and don’t get in at all,” Councilman Culotta asked. “There’s a whole process, a legal process for that. Right. Do you have to follow that same legal process if they break the rules?”

Because they are not called residents and they are considered a homeless program that provides shelter, Malone stated they do not fall under landlord tenant rules. He explained that they did have to evict a couple recently because the woman was making violent, aggressive moves towards staff. When they sat them down and reviewed their plan, it became clear the couple was not attempting to reach the goals they set so they were told they had eight hours to get out. Councilman Culotta was concerned that evicting someone from the program could lead to issues in the local community.

“You know, the thing of it is that no program is going to be 100% successful and taking somebody from a behavior and a situation they’ve lived in for years, move them through a stabilization process and out to being successful, some are going to make it, some are going to not make it through the village and they’re going to have to exit. Some are going to make it into housing,” Malone said. So, if we could achieve 60 to 80% success rate compared to the 10 or 20% that most shelters do because most shelters, you’re there for 30 days or 60 days, then you’re out back on the street again. So, we have been working hard on when it gets down to it and they just aren’t getting it. We have now instituted a probation; you have to exit for a week. You can come back, and they will hold your cabin, but you had to have a different attitude when you come back. But then sometimes they have to exit for two weeks. And so, when we finally get to the point where they just aren’t gonna fit the program, then they’ve got basically 18 days to claim their possessions. And that’s, by many standards, that’s a highly successful rate, even though you’re right. Some of them are gonna be right out. They’re homeless.”

Councilman Culotta stated that this was something to think about before deciding where something like this may go in Milford. Councilman Mike Boyle pointed out that the program was not meant to be a warehouse. He stated that  the participants were in a program and asked if Malone could explain what the program encompasses, what the goals are, and what the participation requirements are of the participants.

“We do an intake process and that, at the very front and center of that pre-process is a goal setting exercise. It’s a conversation with each participant individually. And we have, I’m sorry, I can’t cite all the different categories. They can be financial goals, they could be health related goals. Could be education goals. One goal does have to be a housing plan, or plan to get out and move on to housing but they go through that process to tell us what they’re looking for,” Malone said. “And then listed are all those different organizations that are in this a growing list that we closely interact with to connect them to those services. And within our case management system we track the things that are listed there, how many people got jobs, how many people got reconnected to a doctor, how many people open up savings accounts. And all that’s meant to be a stabilization process to get them back on their feet. And then ultimately get them on to the next part of their life, to live independently.”

Malone also stated that there was no “drop-dead date” for when goals needed to be met, although those living in the village had to show evidence, they were working toward meeting goals. Each person in the village must undergo a review every three months to be sure they are working toward goals. There are also not many rules for those living in the village.

“No active drug use or alcohol on site. Participate in chores, work on your plan and do no harm to yourself or others. That’s kind of it. They can come and go as they please. They don’t have to check in and check out and that’s worked out well, and it saves our staff of keeping a logbook, trying to keep track of where everybody is and that’s pretty much where we operate,” Malone said. “We do wellness checks every day, multiple times a day. Our shelter coordinators, in the overnight shift, if they see a light on in a cabin, they’ll knock to make sure they’re okay. Otherwise, they just assume they’re asleep. But then the earlier hours, everybody gets checked on, how are you, what’s going on. And people have come to expect it and if the staff misses it, it’s like “you didn’t check on me today.”

Councilman James pointed out that should Milford choose to create a pallet village, funding would be provided by the state and it may not be city funding. Malone explained that there are grants available from the federal and state governments, but the process is lengthy, taking as much as a year for approval.

“I guess one other thing that’s food for thought for everyone and I’m gonna mess this up everyone bear with me. I read a parable, and there was a farmer who owned a wheat field. He told his workers, he was a perfectionist, go out and cut down every stock of wheat that had a broken blade and burn it. Okay, they did. So he came the next day and said where’s my wheat? It says “sir, we did as you said.” So the parable is that there’s no perfect stock of wheat, there’s no perfect people,” Councilman James said. “And if you disregard them because they have broken blades or issues, then you’re going to throw everyone away. So, I think whatever program we decide to go with or consider, if we do consider something it’s not designed to solve every problem. We are not going to do that, Christ himself couldn’t do that. So, if anything is done, it will be designed to be a hand up not a handout and not intended to save the world because you can do that.”

Malone agreed with Councilman James.

“I will just sum it up say that I think the other phrase is don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But our program has had impact in Georgetown. The population has been ignored, overlooked. They were invisible and now they’re proud to be part of the community and the community is proud to have them. And so that cohort that’s moving through is we’re changing their lives,” Malone said. “We still want to get to the rest of the community in the woods. We believe that as we move through and try to get more funding, we want to have more outreach workers. We’re already working with other organizations that do outreach, or trying to gather more data about who they are and what their situation is. And at least connect them to some sort of services. So again, it’s going to be a work in progress for the next decade.”

Councilman Fulton asked if it was true shelters sometimes separate married couples as there were no co-habitation shelters. Malone explained that some did keep couples together, but this was a challenge in the homeless population. Councilman Dan Marabello, who visited the Georgetown pallet village, commended the organization for their work in addressing the situation and asked if Malone could provide a success story.

“Jamie is one of our more personable. He got he got aged out of foster care. He’s Hispanic. He’s got some bipolar issues. So, he works to stay stable, but he’s got a wonderful personality. Well, he was one of our first, he and another gentleman went through the First State Culinary Arts program. So, they learned food safety and cooking and things like that,” Malone said. “He’s currently employed, not in food service industry, but he’s employed and making money and trying to save money with the other gentleman that went to the culinary arts program. That gentleman catches a bus over to Rehoboth and works at a food truck. And so, that’s another success story. We have alluded to the woman that works in Beebe on a night shift makes really good money. I’m not quite sure what she does, but I think it’s cleaning up operating rooms. So, it’s not the most desirable job but she’s good at it. And she gets good money for doing it.”

City Manager Mark Whitfield asked how much land would be necessary for a pallet village and Malone explained that it would depend on the type of housing as the Boss Cubez would take up less surface area than the pallet homes. The current village in Georgetown is on just under an acre of land. Parking for staff was necessary as well as for any resident who owned a vehicle.  Some organizations brought large vans and mobile units to provide services which also required a large area of parking space. Chief Cecilia Ashe asked what feedback they had gotten between the participants and those still living in the woods.

“The actual participants follow along the same lines that has been the experience across the ELA villages, and actually an observation about homeless shelters. This was called the three P’s – partners possessions and pets. And most, but not all, don’t allow some combination of that and turns people off and they stay in the woods. And so, we solved that problem. That makes people want to come in, the people that are still out there,” Malone said. “Of course, we’re on the site of First State and they have after school programs. So, we can’t accept sex offenders. So, we have that population. We’re just not able to address everything we have. Now fortunately, in the campus we’re aware of, they have sorted themselves out where there are no children there. As a matter of fact, they tend to report it if someone brings a child in there because they know it’s not a place for a child. But what does that leave them? It probably leaves them living out of their car, with their mother or father or whatever. We want to address that situation. But we realized that, again, coordinated care. We are not clinicians; we are not we’re medical professionals. We are connectors to those services, and childcare has its own set of regulations. And so, we have to find a partner that could make that work or otherwise the parents going to be there and stuck because there’s nobody take care of their child during the day.”

Councilwoman Katrina Wilson, who has been an outspoken advocate for affordable housing and addressing the homeless situation for many years, thanked Malone for bringing such detailed information to council.

“I just like to say that it was very rewarding to be able to go and to see things firsthand of how things worked, the operation, how the flow was and to also to be able to provide this workshop for our residents and to let our people know that that we are looking and trying to find the best option for our less fortunate population,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “And, we are, but we want to make sure that we research and try to get input from those that have and those that have not to make sure that we are trying to do this and to address all the needs and, what is pallet, this village if you didn’t have the resources there.”

Councilwoman Wilson continued.

“The resources are just as important as the villages, so we got to make sure that everything is going to connect properly in order for this to be successful. You know, personally, my first thought was I liked the idea of tiny homes, just because, a bathroom and those things would be there and it just in my mind looks more like home. And I’m always think of trying to have things as stable as possible and but that might not be right,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “It might be the palette villages. So, it’s just to have the options and to have the information to come forth so we can do our due diligence and to make things the best way we can for our citizens and residents. And so, we can have participants to come through to bring them to give them that hand up. It’s all about giving a hand up and then just starting that chain, pulling each other up to where we were we should be.”

The pallet village discussion will be on future agendas where public comment will be accepted.






















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