Startup Wants To Build Tiny Homes for Homeless With Touchscreens for Health Care

A Seattle startup hopes to address homelessness in the community by building tiny homes that provide shelter and access to telehealth resources.

City Pods founder Keenan O'Leary initially planned for his company to offer a low-cost alternative to hostels. When COVID began, the business was at risk of failing. Having seen the impact of the pandemic in his home city and personally knowing someone who experienced it, O'Leary realized his pods could have a different use.

Each unit was designed to be set up in an unused space with access to heating, cooling and plumbing but O'Leary and designer James Lee modified the design to better serve the homeless population.

Each pod is built with an aluminum frame for strength and uses PVC plastic panels that are simple to clean, resistant to bacteria and protected from graffiti. If one panel is damaged, it can be easily replaced, according to Geek Wire.

Seattle's Homeless Struggle During Coronavirus Pandemic
The Exhibition Hall at the Seattle Center has been turned into a temporary men's shelter on April 6, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. A startup company, City Pods, hopes to create individual units with tablets that provide access to telehealth resources. Karen Ducey/Getty

There are also Amazon Fire tablets located inside each pod that grants residents access to telehealth services like mental health experts or treatment for substance abuse in an effort to root out some of the causes of homelessness.

City Pods unveiled its prototypes to members of the Seattle community and said they plan to fine-tune the units and land some orders. The pods will be built in Washington State and are estimated to cost around $12,000 for one, 64 square foot unit.

"We have to try every innovative idea we can get, and invest in what works," said Shkëlqim Kelmendi, executive director of Housing Connector, in a Geek Wire interview. The Seattle-based nonprofit connects private property owners with those most in need of housing, according to their website.

Erica Barnett, a Seattle-based political reporter who covers local politics and policy, transportation, and urban planning and development, according to her LinkedIn page, was critical of the startup on Twitter.

Sharing the Geek Wire article, she wrote, "Private capital is forever inventing things that already exist, but worse (Tiny House Villages, but put them in warehouses!)" She added that the concept of sheltering unsheltered people in warehouses is not a new idea and that people often have a hard time accessing meaningful services if they're not in person.

According to the Seattle Mayor's Office, the 2020 Point-in-Time count for Seattle/King County found 11,751 people experiencing homelessness during one night in January. About 53 percent of individuals were sheltered and 47 percent were unsheltered. The total is a 5 percent increase compared to the previous year's count.