The small homes making a big difference

A Geelong-based manufacturer, a university and a men’s crisis accommodation are paving the way in creating sustainable housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Like many, Andrew* lost his job when the pandemic began. His industry was hit hard and before he knew it, he was out of work and sleeping in a swag.

With the help of the Salvation Army, Andrew was referred to Samaritan House, a support service in his hometown of Geelong that helps men who are sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness by providing temporary accommodation, home cooked meals and ongoing support.

For him the thought of having stable accommodation for a potential 12 weeks was a game changer.

“Samaritan House helped in that it's given me stability to look for work and focus on finding more long-term accommodation,” he says.

Like Andrew, Josh* reached out to Samaritan House for help after a rent increase at his share house saw him couch surfing and without a place to call home for the first time in his life.

“Coming into Samaritan House has changed my life in many ways where I was lost and in desperate need of help, he says.”

“It is a peaceful environment where men can have the opportunity to rest, reset and find direction in life again, also a great place for other men to share their story and help each other.”

Breaking the cycle of homelessness inspired Samaritan House to think big, or in this case, small.Samaritan House project during construction image credit to FormFlow

Samaritan House Board Chair Keith Fagg saw the need for more stable accommodation that would also give men a sense of independence.

“There is a significant lack of transitional housing in Geelong. Here at Samaritan House, we wanted to create quality transitional housing units to help provide the next stage of their pathway out of homelessness,” he says.

After reaching out to local manufacturer FormFlow the project took shape with Deakin University’s School of Architecture putting their best and brightest students forward to think innovatively and creatively to find a solution.

The solution came in the form of a protype dubbed Prefab 21, which was a small one-bedroom house that could be constructed on site quickly and reduce the impact on the environment through its natural ventilation, and adaptability.

“There are a whole series of benefits to modular housing,” says FormFlow Manager Director Matthew Dingle.

“One of the key ones is obviously speed so it's possible to deliver buildings on-site and have them operational within a really short space of time, he says”.

“Some of the other benefits are about flexibility and adaptability, so the building system allows us to create a fairly large building or a moderate sized building and have multiple modules that you can then reconfigure the layout or make it bigger or smaller.”

Prefab 21 during construction- image credit to FormFlow With support from the Victorian Government, Deakin University’s Professor James Doerfler and his students, as well as FormFlow, began constructing seven of these prefabricated independent living units at Samaritan House.

“I believe it’s the first of its kind in Australia; it’s an entirely new housing type where the design is focused on giving people a place to live,” says James.

“The quality of the design had a lot to do with our strategy in creating these independent living units for people who need it most - it’s this approach of thinking how it is going to be used that has been quite innovative,” he says.

The units will offer independent living for three to six months, with affordable rent to help men transition to longer-term social housing.

Since they were installed, the units have increased Samaritan House’s capacity by 50 percent, enabling the service to support more men needing help.

Keith believes this will enable the residents to take responsibility for their own place with the right support.

“The units have been designed and fitted out with our values of dignity and respect at the forefront. We believe the residents will take pride in their transitional home,” he says.

Both FormFlow and Deakin University’s school of architecture have big plans for prefabricated homes and the design of a micro village in addressing social housing.Samaritan House - at night. image credit to Samaritan House

James is putting together a research strategy for the university, while FormFlow is in discussions with other entities around Australia on how this model could be rolled out elsewhere.

“The focus of the upcoming project we're taking on this year is about how you can do this on a large community scale where you're developing housing for people of all backgrounds and levels of ability, so that you have really integrated communities,” says Matthew.

It’s a vision both Josh and Andrew believe could help men like them, find some stability, and help get their lives back on track.

“I will recommend it to any men that have nowhere or no one to turn to,” says Andrew.

“I truly believe there should be a lot more Samaritan Houses like this, it would save a lot of men's lives.”

*Names changed for privacy.