A unique type of tiny house could solve homelessness crisis among US veterans

Veteran homelessness increased by seven percent last year. It's a long-term problem that nonprofit groups want to solve. As WTOP's Gigi Barnett reports, the answer may come in the form of shipping containers.
Volunteers of America unveiled its 320-square-feet shipping container home on the National Mall this weekend. The house will be rented out to a veteran in Durham, North Carolina. (Courtesy Volunteers of America)

The growing trend of using shipping containers as tiny homes isn’t slowing across the country, and one nonprofit is turning to the repurposed structures to solve homelessness among U.S. veterans.

“If done right, this could be super quality housing,” Lee Goldstein, director of strategic initiatives and development at Volunteers of America, a nonprofit that focuses on affordable housing and other social services, told WTOP.

The group unveiled its version of a remodeled shipping container house at the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Innovative Housing Showcase on the National Mall this weekend.

The one-bedroom, 320-square-foot house comes complete with large windows, a modern bathroom and an open kitchen.

A model kitchen in a converted shipping container
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE A model kitchen in a converted shipping container (Courtesy Volunteers of America)

“It’s got lots of natural light and a front deck area to sit out in front,” Goldstein said. “We really wanted to make sure that there are sustainable and quality materials (inside) that will last. They do look really nice.”

Nearly 40,000 veterans are homeless, according to HUD. That’s a 7.4% increase from 2022 to 2023. Goldstein said a sharp rise in housing costs is impacting many Americans, including veterans.

“It’s mostly an economic issue,” he said. “Folks are housing cost-burdened. When you’re spending 50% or more of your income on housing, think about what happens if you lose your job? You have less savings because you’re spending way more on your housing.”

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE A model bedroom in a converted shipping container (Courtesy Volunteers of America)

Shipping container homes are attractive for several reasons, chief among them: They cost less to design and craft. Depending on the style, size and materials, they can cost anywhere between $25,000 to $250,000. Volunteers of America’s shipping container houses cost about $75,000 to build in one-and-a-half months.

Another perk: Shipping containers take less time to build, as little as four months, Goldstein said.
“That is critical when there are folks on the street,” he said. “They can’t afford to wait three to five years for an apartment building to be built.”

The popularity of shipping container homes has spiked across the country in the last few years. Homebuyers in several states with low inventory, including California and Florida, are turning to remodeled structures because of their sustainability and mobility.

Goldstein said the house his team created will be rented to a veteran in Durham, North Carolina. He said the nonprofit will also provide some social services for the former military member and the lease will not expire.

“These are folks who have served our country,” Goldstein told WTOP. “They deserve a home like anyone else, if not the most of any of us.”

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Gigi Barnett

Gigi Barnett is an anchor at WTOP. She has worked in the media for more than 20 years. Before joining WTOP, she was an anchor at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, and a staff reporter at The Miami Herald. She’s a Navy wife and mom of three.

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