Shipping container solution offers bright future

Posted by: Ashley Birch
Shipping container solution offers bright future supporting image

A Sleeper Unit in Tudor Square

Council see potential in Sheffield company’s solution to homelessness

Sheffield company My Containers UK announced their Sleeper Units scheme this morning with the arrival of a bright blue shipping container in Tudor Square.


They hope that by giving people the opportunity to look around a refurbed unit, visitors will be able to see the potential of their plan to help tackle homelessness by converting unused shipping containers into temporary one bedroom accommodation.


The scheme is still in the early stages of development but the council members who we spoke to at the launch seemed broadly positive about the possibilities the scheme offered.


Councillor Jim Steinke, cabinet member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety, who would be the lead on a development of this type, told VIBE: “I’m a real convert to container housing, I think modular housing is very much the future. Container housing is a solution to some issues, certainly short term housing and certainly emergency housing.


“This (My Container’s demo Sleeper Unit) is done to a very high standard, and is relatively cheap.”


Richard Eyre, head of city-centre management, CCTV, markets and events at Sheffield City Council, said: “I think it’s a great concept. If you look inside, it’s kitted out to a three or four star hotel, giving somebody that independence to get back on their feet, to get the right services that they need.


“It’s a temporary solution, as people need to be in proper houses and proper communities. But as a temporary solution what a fantastic product.”


Homelessness activist Anthony Cunningham, best known for his work on Tent City, is a big supporter of the project: He said: “It’s a fantastic idea, it already happens in places like Brighton and Bristol. I don’t know why it’s not happening in Sheffield. It can give people a new lease of life.”


The idea for the scheme came from a chance encounter the company’s director Martin McGrail had with a homeless man near his Reserved café in Stannington. In refurbing a container to help the young man, Martin realised the potential this could have for the wider homeless population.


Each unit would contain a living/social area; kitchenette facilities; fold away space-saving bed and storage; fully-equipped shower unit; TV and wifi; and outside secure porch, with the option for multiple units to add more bedroom space for larger groups.


However, there are still questions to be answered in relation to the size of the units as well as the after care available for potential service users. Councillor Steinke said: “You need short term, immediate accommodation to get people off the streets, but that needs to be supported in a number of ways. A concern I have is that because you’ve found a bed, that becomes the end of it. We need to actually address the reasons that people become homeless in the first place.


“For this to work properly it needs to be done with other housing associations, who are used to providing specialist support for people.


“What we need to do is think if this is going to go forward how we provide support packages, who provides it, who funds it and who would be eligible for it. Clearly these are going to suit some people but we wouldn’t want to put people in places like this who are claustrophobic.”


He has also committed to consulting with homeless people about the unit’s viability going forward. He said: “Homeless people will be consulted at every stage. We need to find ways in which people get consulted both directly and indirectly with people representing them as well.


“What I’m very clear on is that we don’t have people speaking on behalf of homeless people claiming they know what homeless people want, when they don’t.”


Tim Renshaw, chief executive at Cathedral Archer Project said: “I like the potential the shipping cargo pods offer. The problem with some affordable accommodation is that they can lack basic homeliness (curtains, carpets etc.) and can be too close to the lifestyle problems people want to escape, including drug dealers and people who are using substances or alcohol.”


Jonny Butcher, an organiser for the tenants union ACORN, said: “Access to emergency accommodation could mean the difference between life and death for someone faced with a night on the streets.


“While we have some questions over how Sleeper will be financed and managed, there is clearly a desperate need for action as winter approaches. If Sleeper can meet that need, then it is to be welcomed, but this is not a long term solution to the housing crisis”

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