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This story was updated on February 27, 2009

The solution to homelessness should be simple: homes. Why can’t we just mass-produce basic shelters, plunk them on vacant lots, and hand out keys to the homeless?

That was the premise behind Homesforless, a project Professor Christian Blyt assigned to his industrial design students at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. The result is a collection of four prototype shelters. Each has the same basic design: an eight-foot-square footprint, and a height of 10 to 14 feet. The interiors are cosy, with some including a sleeping loft, leaving space below for a couple of chairs, a countertop and a storage chest. And the units cost less than $1,500 to produce.

But now the homes are homeless. After their unveiling at UBC’s Centre for Advanced Wood Processing in April 2008, they sat in storage, then were put on display at Granville Island last fall. At the time of writing in early January, they had overstayed their welcome: originally planned to extend through November, the exhibit was granted an extension through the first week of January, at which point the units were finally served their eviction notice.

Patrick Stewart, who sits on Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Homeless Emergency Action Team, says the city is considering the units, but notes their obvious limitation: “Part of the issue is . . . because there are only four units right now, it’s kind of tiny.” However, he notes, “anything can work, if you structure it properly, find a piece of property, and put support services around it to make it work. So at this point I want to try to keep it alive if I can.”

Stewart reports that more substantial modular units, of the type used in remote work camps, are another option under consideration around the Action Team table.

As of early January, Stewart was working on lining up temporary storage for the four units in an East Vancouver parking lot.

On February 14, the Bowen Community Housing Association moved the four structures to Snug Cove on Bowen Island, where they were put on display outside the Purple Door art gallery. As reported in Bowen Island’s Undercurrent newspaper, Purple Door manager Suzan Phillipe intends to display them through the end of March, purely as an art installation intended to raise awareness of homelessness.

There’s no word as to where the structures will go next. “They might be showcased in another municipality,” surmised Celine Fung, a planner with Bowen Island Municipality.