The Mad Housers

FAQ

We've been asked many, many questions over the years. If you have a question, chances are you'll find the answers here. Special thanks to volunteer Andy D. for compiling this list.

Contents

  1. The Mad Housers
  2. Sites
  3. Clients
  4. Huts/Materials
  5. Volunteers/Donations
  6. Miscellany

The Mad Housers

This section is all about The Mad Housers organization.

Who are The Mad Housers and what do you do?

Mad Housers, Inc. is an Atlanta-based non-profit corporation engaged in charitable work, research, and education. We are a 100% volunteer-based organization.

Our primary endeavor is building temporary, emergency shelters for homeless individuals and families regardless of race, creed, national origin, gender, religion, age, family status, sexual orientation, etc.

Why do you do this?

The Mad Housers believes that if a person has a secure space from which to operate, they are much more capable of finding resources to help themselves.

With your help, people will not freeze when it's cold, will not get soaked when it's raining, and will be able to lock up their belongings when they leave home. These abilities should -- at least a little bit -- bump up their self-esteem as well as their hope for a better future for themselves.

Do you really think that what you do will eliminate homelessness?

No. Homelessness is too big a problem to be "solved" by some huts built by a handful of volunteers. But it's better than doing nothing. We are not hoping to eliminate homelessness. We are taking steps to help individuals improve their situations.

Also bear in mind that we are attempting to address a very narrow slice of the homelessness pie -- those people who are capable of living on their own and gathering the resources needed to survive. There are many homeless individuals for whom we can provide no help.

Aren't you just perpetuating the homeless problem?

Some may think that we make life too easy for homeless by providing them with shelter. Trust us, even with the shelters, homelessness is no picnic. The huts are a tool to help the homeless survive and hopefully, eventually, prosper, pure and simple.

The is no problem that having no place to stay can help.

Why don't these homeless people just get off the streets and stay in homeless shelters?

Several reasons:

  • Primarily, there simply isn't enough capacity out there to help everyone who is homeless. There aren't even enough beds for emergency shelter, much less the type of stable, long-term residency coupled with programs to help assist folks off the streets and back into society.
  • Many shelters are emergency shelters only. They're not there for long term residency.
  • Also, many of our clients don't feel safe at shelters, or have problems that keep them from seeking shelters, or would rather try working on their problems independently of the shelter system.
Is The Mad Housers just like Habitat for Humanity?

Habitat for Humanity is a great organization that builds full-scale houses for families. The Mad Housers is a great, if much smaller, organization that builds temporary emergency shelters for homeless individuals. Although both groups build, they have different approaches for different clientele.

Do you partner with other homeless-assistance organizations?

Sure. We are always interested in partnering with organizations/folks that help/can help the homeless. As an example, some local tree surgeons have agreed to drop off their scrap wood at several homeless camps, providing the homeless individuals there with a free supply of firewood.

There are many such groups out there and, truth be told, we need to do a better job of identifying and partnering with them.

However, we always have to be careful to not divert our scant resources into a feed-the-homeless (or whatever) business. There are many groups that help the homeless in other ways and, where appropriate, we're pleased to hook them up with our clients or vice-versa. But we must stick to our focus of building huts and related activities.

Sites/Locations

Where are the sites?

They're in various locations around the city. Sorry, we can't get more specific than that. These are places where people live. For their privacy -- and their safety -- we don't give out the locations of the sites to the public. If you really want to see a site, volunteer!

How many Mad Housers sites/camps are there?

There are about a dozen camps right now (Winter 2013). Most are only one or two campers, but we have a few camps with more than four people in them.

Do you get permission to build at a site?

When we can. The issue of land ownership is very delicate.

We don't create camps. We find existing camps and make improvements, namely shelters. If a camp has been at a site for a long time, then either:

  • the owner is either aware of their presence and okay with it;
  • the owner doesn't know that they are there, or;
  • the ownership of the land is in dispute and homeless individuals are living there until things are straightened out (which could be years or decades).
So, do we ask? Only if there is an existing communication between the camp and the landowner. Otherwise, we might wind up getting a camp broken up, all with the best of intentions.
Isn't that illegal?

We've been told to remove huts from properties before; we've always complied. We don't seek to break the law, anymore than the homeless seek to trespass. There's simply no place to go.

The best camps are have the owner's permission to stay. In these cases, the land gets looked after and the residents have a place to stay - a workable, stable situation for all involved.

Aren't property owners just concerned about squatters' rights or whatever that's called (adverse possession)?

If you mean that property owners are concerned that these homeless folks will one day grab the right and title to the land they're occupying, no, that's not an issue.

Here's why: in order to own land in Georgia, you need to pay taxes on it. So let's say that for twenty years, you have paid taxes on land you don't own. You could then seek title to that land.

Since our clients aren't paying taxes on the land they occupy, they cannot seek ownership of the land.

How do the police view homeless camps?

In general, as long as the camps aren't causing trouble, the police won't cause trouble for the camps. A stable, settled encampment is easier to monitor and police than a group of transients. And since a person with a hut is now settled in one spot, it's not in his best interest to stir up trouble.

How many huts do you build at each site?

Many factors determine how many huts a site will support. The most important questions we need to answer before building an additional hut are:

  • Would an additional hut compromise the privacy of the site?
  • How does the rest of the camp (i.e., the "homeowners association") feel about the addition of another hut?

Clients

Finding a good location is only half of the battle of finding a good site. The other half is determining whether the homeless individuals there are capable of maintaining a site.

Why are these people homeless?

There are many reasons why someone can wind up homeless. Some are unlucky, some are unwise, some have problems that they can't solve themselves such as mental illness. We're not experts on the root causes of homelessness, we're just trying to help.

How does The Mad Housers decide who gets a hut?

The Mad Housers tries to not get into the business of judging whether a person is a good person or not. That's not our job. But it is our concern whether something we build can be expected to help somebody.

If huts are going to cause a disruption in a camp, or if the camp looks like it's heading for extinction anyway, we wouldn't be good stewards of our donations by wasting our time, energy, or materials.

We try to get to know our clients and potential clients pretty well. It usually doesn't take more than a couple of visits to a site to get a feel for its long-term viability.

Good questions to ask:

  • How long have you been here? If it's been a while, that's a good sign. Like the best indicator of future wealth is current wealth, the best indicator of a camp's future longevity is its longevity. Similarly, someone who has been part of a camp for a while probably isn't a troublemaker or they would have been asked to leave by their fellow campmates.
  • Do other folks know you're here? This is quite likely. If the neighbors know and don't mind and if the landowner knows and doesn't mind, then the camp is golden. Same with the cops; they usually won't break up a camp unless there are complaints. Homeless people may be homeless, but they generally aren't dumb. If they have a place to stay, they're generally not going to rock the boat by causing trouble.
  • Is someone in charge? In a group situation, there's usually a person who's the leader. It's not necessarily an explicit leadership role, where someone is the boss -- sometimes it's simply a respected member of the camp whose opinion is usually listened to. These folks tend to give the ultimate approval on what happens in the camp, and should definitely be consulted.
What should I do if I know of a homeless camp?

Tell us! Since existing sites will inevitably reach a no-new-huts limit, we always must be on the lookout for the "next site" -- even if it's outside of I-285.

How many clients do you have?

Over time, The Mad Housers has helped many dozens of clients. Currently, there are about thirty clients in Mad Housers huts.

What are the clients' ages, genders, etc.?

Just as the causes of homelessness vary, so too do the characteristics of those who are homeless. The Mad Housers clients are young and old, male and female, of various races, and follow different creeds.

Do they have jobs?

Some do, some don't. Many take odd jobs such as day labor. Recall that there are many causes of homelessness and some causes can make it impossible for someone to pursue gainful employment. On the other hand, some work as often as they can.

If they don't have jobs, how do they eat?

Many homeless individuals find discarded food (typically from dumpsters) and eat that. Some panhandle for money and buy food, others rely on soup kitchens which provide them with the occasional meal, some grow their own vegetables. Eating, let alone eating well, as you can surely see, is a challenge.

How long do most clients stay in a hut?

Some clients stay in a hut until they can put together enough money for a deposit on a new apartment. Once that happens, they leave and turn over their hut to the next person. Others have serious, chronic problems and will likely never leave.

What percentage of clients "graduate" out of a hut?

We've seen about 20% of our clients "graduate", but we don't infer too much from that. Remember that some clients can "graduate", others simply can't, and others choose not to. We are happy that we can help all of them.

Are clients required to provide "sweat equity" (i.e., to help out with their hut builds)?

They are not. Some clients appear to enter shock when we build their huts and believe that there's no way they could help with the construction process. Others jump right in and help as much as they can. Some are off working and aren't even around when we build their hut. At least one of our clients comes to almost every hut build at other camps to pitch in.

Huts/Materials

What is a hut?

Huts are sturdy, wood-framed structures, measuring 6' x 8' x 10'. Each hut has a pitched roof, a sleeping/storage loft, a locking door, and a wood burning stove for both heating and cooking. The huts are not designed to be permanent housing; instead, they are temporary, emergency shelters that offer our clients privacy, security, protection from the elements, and some stability.

Huts are designed along the classic KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle, and can be assembled with an inexperienced crew in about fifty total person-hours. Once assembled on site, the huts become the property of the clients. Usually, the client will then make additions and improvements according to their own ideas; in fact, many of the best design improvements have come from the clients themselves, who have the most practical experience with the huts.

The huts were originally expected to last only a couple of years. However, some huts have lasted over a decade and are still going; pieces which have become rotted are simply re-framed and replaced with a minimum amount of fuss. Huts themselves are recycled to new clients as old clients move on and out of the huts.

How/from where do you obtain materials to build the huts? You don't steal it, do you?

No! We may be mad, but we're not stupid.

The process goes something like this. We receive money from kind and generous donors (sometimes they provide us with donated items and materials which are great, too). We head to a local home improvement/construction supply store and give them the donated money in exchange for building materials.

We also accept suitable scrap that would otherwise be destined for the dump. Given sufficient lead time, someone from The Mad Housers will drive by, pick up said scrap, and dump it off at the warehouse for subsequent sorting.

How much does each hut cost to build?

About $400, approximately 90% of which is the cost of lumber.

How long does it take to build a hut?

The total number of person-hours required is around fifty.

About 50% of that time is for manufacturing the panels (sides, back, front, loft, and floor) and the other 50% is for transporting the panels to the site, assembling it there, and dealing with finishing touches (e.g., painting, roll roofing, hanging the door).

What is the cost to the clients?

Zero. We give the huts away to our clients for free.

So you don't require anything from the clients before you build a hut for them?

No. We don't want their money. We don't care about their relationship with Jesus, Buddha, or Allah. We're not there to judge them or shake them down. We figure that if they're human and staying outside, they can probably use a secure, warm place to stay.

Do you manage the huts/sites?

No. We think it is best if the camp manages their own affairs.

We don't have the time, the resources, the expertise, or the inclination to manage other people's lives. We don't live on the sites, so we don't know the nuances of any particular situation. Any attempt at site management would likely be an intrusive disaster.

So you just dump the huts off and leave? Do you ever come back and fix problems that might have arisen with the huts?

For construction and weatherproofing issues, yes, definitely. We constantly have someone checking on the huts and with our clients to see if such repairs are needed.

For "homeowners association" kinds of problems, almost never. We'll help, but not manage. Again, for multiple reasons, we think it is best if the camp manages their own affairs.

We also consider some of these folks to be our friends and we often visit on our own (not as a direct Mad Housers activity) to bring them needed items or just to stop by and see how things are going.

What are the downsides to a Mad Housers hut?

Well, these really aren't downsides to huts per se; rather, they're downsides to the hut-obtaining process:

  • We might not be able to give a person a hut. This has nothing to do with them and everything to do with location. If they're currently camping on land where it's likely that a hut would be destroyed, then we won't build it. That would be a misuse of our limited time, energy, and resources. But if they're already staying there and nobody bothers them and nobody is likely to bother them, then we can usually help.
  • The huts are likely to be taller than the person's current shelter and thus, more visible. That may cause the site and the client to attract unwanted attention. We try to camouflage our huts with paint and by hiding it behind local flora, but the risk of being seen is still there.
  • We can't build a hut instantly. We're just a group of volunteers; nobody's paying us to do this. It could be a few weeks or months before a hut comes to a client. We wish this weren't so, but it's the harsh truth.
How long do clients have to wait to get a hut?

Since we are an all-volunteer group operating primarily on evenings and weekends, since we need a suitable site at which to build a hut, and -- most importantly -- since earlier clients are always ahead of the newest clients on the list, the answer is -- it varies.

Since we try to maintain an "inventory" of about one hut's worth of panels, sometimes are ready hit the ground running at the next build day. At other times, however, we don't even have lumber in the warehouse pre-cut for a panel build.

There's a perfect site next to my home/work and I'm certain that there are homeless people in the vicinity. Can you build a few huts there for them?

Please tell us where it is so we can check it out. We sometimes have a client who needs a hut, but lacks a suitable site, and it might be a great match.

Can't you just build some huts and see who shows up?

In our earliest days, we tried this. It didn't work very well, and so we've stopped. A site compose of people randomly thrown together works about as well as your average reality TV grouping - not at all.

Are the huts subject to building codes?

No. They are temporary, emergency shelters. We view them similarly to your having to nail down a piece of plywood to cover a hole in your roof. They're just somewhat more elaborate than a single piece of plywood and some nails.

One of the fundamental differences between temporary, emergency shelters and housing subject to building codes is the absence of a permanent foundation. To be sure, Mad Housers huts do not have a permanent foundation.

Can I obtain a list of materials/plans for a hut?

Absolutely. Visit our construction page.

If not in a hut, in/under what do these folks sleep?

Tents, sleeping bags, tarps, vapor barrier plastic, plywood lean-tos, etc. We've even seen a shelter made of doors (which was quite impressive).

Can you build me/my kid a (fill in the blank here)?

Sorry, but no. We occasionally put up huts as a demo, but in the end we're a charitable organization, not a construction crew.

Volunteers/Donations

The people (and stuff) who make it happen.

What do volunteers do?

Everything. We are completely composed of volunteers; whatever needs to be done, gets done by volunteers. You can get involved in our fundraising or public relations, write an article for our quarterly newsletter, help us obtain a grant, help with panel builds, put up a hut, paint a hut, help us partner with outreach organizations, correct problems with this FAQ, research related ways we can help the homeless, etc.

When/how often do you meet?

The Calendar page contains our latest schedule. If the maintainer of that page has been snoozing and forgot to update it, you can always monitor the our discussion group or contact us (see below) for the latest goings-on.

Some of our activities occur monthly (e.g., general meetings, fundraising/PR meetings), and others occur a couple of times each month (e.g., panel builds, hut builds, site recons), so there's bound to be something that meshes with your schedule.

Who volunteers with The Mad Housers?

Well, you and people like you. Men and women, teenagers and old coots, and folks in various trades and professions all lend a hand.

What are the day jobs of the volunteers?

Not too surprisingly, there are a quite a few folks who are involved with housing in the group - architects, construction, real estate, etc. However, it's by no means a requirement -- for instance, we currently have a number of computer folks.

How can I volunteer?

If you show up at an event, you're a volunteer. You don't need to swear an oath or get a tattoo. To keep abreast of upcoming events and keep in touch with the other volunteers, you can subscribe to our email list by sending email to madhousers-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. If you'd rather not get emails, you can look at keep track of the messages at the Yahoogroups website, where all of our messages are stored and freely viewable. Also, keep an eye on our calendar of events.

My company/scout group/church/synagogue/neighborhood/etc. would like to sponsor a build. How do we go about doing that?

We're happy to work with groups, as long as they're a manageable size (under 20 people) and are willing to supply the materials. Please see our group policy on our website.

Miscellany

What else do you do?

We never stray too far from shelter. One of our current development projects is the "hi hat" shelter. This is essentially a "standard" hut with a saltbox, instead of gabled, roof. This greatly improves the headroom and ventilation of our huts, turning the sleeping loft into a small second floor.`

See http://www.madhousers.org/rd for details some of our current development projects.

I've always wanted my very own Mad Housers T-shirt. Do you sell shirts and other such tasteful Mad Housers items?

Of course! Visit http://www.madhousers.org/donate.shtml and buy stuff to your heart's content.

Is it a good idea to give money to homeless people?

"Wherever capital predominates, industry prevails; wherever revenue, idleness." -- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

One reason why we believe that the huts are better than handouts is that they're a durable, useful item that homeless folks can use to help themselves, but can't use up -- at least, not easily. A handout can be spent tomorrow, and then another handout is needed.

I have a question that you didn't answer. How can I get an answer?

There are several ways of obtaining answers for your still-lingering questions:

You want an inside secret? Shhhh. Don't tell anyone. The best way to get your question answered is to show up at a panel/hut build or come to a meeting. See the Events page on our website for details.

The warehouse is where we meet for builds. Its address is:

2175 Worthem Ave. #B
Atlanta, GA 30311

Please remember that we are an all-volunteer organization. While we try to deal with everything that lands on our plate in a timely fashion, there's nobody sitting behind some desk dispensing cheery greetings to callers, brewing the morning coffee, and doggedly researching the answers to your questions. So if it takes us more than a few days to get back to you, please accept our sincerest apologies in advance. If such a delay really bugs you, come down to a build/meeting and cuss us out. And when you're done, pick up a hammer and help us build a hut!

 

Do you have any policies in place against discrimination and other illegal behaviors?

Why yes, we do.

The Mad Housers is committed to maintaining a fair and respectful environment for our volunteers, clients, and employees.  To that end, and in accordance with federal, state, and local laws, the Mad Housers prohibits any volunteer, client, or employee, whether they be guests, patrons, independent contractors, or clients, from harassing and/or discriminating against any other member of the Mad Housers community or Mad Housers clients because of that person’s race, gender (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation, ethnicity or national origin, religion, age, genetic information, disabled status, or status as a disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam era.

Any incidents of harassment or discrimination will be met with appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from the Mad Housers community.

If you observe an incident of harassment or discrimination, you are responsible for reporting same without delay to the president of the organization or, if the situation prohibits your making a report directly to the president, reporting same to a senior volunteer, so that the situation can be thoroughly investigated and proper action can be taken.

No person will be penalized for good-faith utilization of the aforementioned channels available for resolving concerns dealing with prohibited bias.