Ald. Devon Reid (8th) told residents at a ward meeting Thursday night that pallet shelters could create temporary housing in Evanston for the homeless and for refugees relocating from Chicago.

And Benjamin Simons, manager of community development for Pallet Shelter, a company based in Everett, Washington, that builds the units, pitched the tiny, secured living structures at the meeting as a temporary housing solution.

Reid said he has discussed setting up pallet communities with other council members and City Manager Luke Stowe to house Evanston’s homeless population.

He also floated the possibly of using them to house recently arrived migrants from South America who might be eventually relocated from Chicago. 

“This is a potential solution for rapid rehousing. There are 13,000 migrants in the City of Chicago from Venezuela and other places and we anticipate by this point next year there will be about 50,000,” Reid said. “It’s very likely that (Chicago) cannot handle that on their own.”

He added that “Evanston is a community that historically has stood up for marginalized folks” and “it’s very likely we will have folks coming to Evanston at some point.”

Simons says that his company has built 120 communities across the country, totaling about 4,500 individual shelter units.

“We are providing people with the dignity of their own space,” he said.  Each community employs a third-party service provider to manage the community and provides what are often characterized as “wraparound services,” facilitating needed social services and arranging permanent housing for residents.

Unlike tents that are sometimes used for temporary shelter, these pallets are weatherproof and insulated, and have a lot of features found in permanent structures, such as energy efficient windows, LED lighting and storage space.

A pallet for a single person is 70 square feet; “family” pallets that sleep up to four people are 120 square feet. They can be locked, providing a measure of security that often eludes those who must rely on traditional congregate shelters.

Each pallet community has a larger structure containing bathroom and shower facilities, as well as a structure meant for offices and space for communal events. 

The pallets have to be connected to electrical and water/sewage services, which will likely to a large extent dictate where they could be placed.

The pallets can be delivered and installed in six to eight weeks. However, depending on where they are placed, extensive site work could be $200,000 to $2,000,000, depending on the condition of the site and proximity to utility connections.

Simons said that his company would charge about $1,000,000 to house about 50 people, along with installation of bathroom and ancillary facilities that might house offices and community space. This includes shipping and assembly of the structures.

Another major cost to these communities is the provision of ongoing management and resident services, which are typically present in traditional shelters.

Simons said costs for that are “very similar to what you are paying per night in a congregate facility” at $60 to $120 per night per resident.  So, for 50 residents, the services would cost $3,000 per night at the low end.

It is unknown how this proposal, if adopted, would be funded, or where the pallet communities would be placed. Reid said he welcomes feedback from the community.

Update 9/20/23: Evanston was not among the six Chicago area communities that will share $41.5 million in state grants to serve asylum seekers that were announced by the governor’s office late Friday.

The vacant lot at 3233 Central St. Credit: Google

Some Evanston Now readers have suggested that the vacant lot at 3233 Central St. would be an ideal site for temporary housing for migrants or the homeless.

The 0.62 acre property, currently listed for sale for $1.5 million, had been approved for a 12-unit apartment development in 2018, but that development failed to get off the ground.

Mayor Daniel Biss and his family live in one half of the duplex in the foreground of the image above.

The site is located in the 6th Ward, which currently has the smallest supply of affordable housing of any ward in the city. The CTA 201 bus route runs down Central Street, connecting the site with Old Orchard and downtown Evanston.

There’s no current indication that city officials are actually considering this site for pallet shelters.

Desiree Shannon relocated to Evanston in 2022 from Columbus, Ohio. She has a journalism degree from Otterbein College of Ohio. During her undergraduate studies, she completed an internship with the Washington...

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