Resource Magazine — May/June 2013
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Building Hope
Nicole Poock

Housing fit for a hurricane

Editor’s Note: In 2012, Sukup Manufacturing Co. won an AE50 award for the Safe T Home™, the company’s entry in ASABE’s annual AE50 competition, which recognizes outstanding agricultural innovations that have potential for broad impact. Based on a grain bin, the Safe T Home provides simple, sturdy housing for disaster victims or impoverished people and is also suitable for use as a school, church, clinic, or other purpose. Well ventilated, with an aerodynamic shape and ballasted design, the Safe T Home can withstand high winds, making it ideal for hurricane-prone areas. This article provides an update on Safe T Home installations in Haiti, as well as future prospects for this great idea.

When the time finally came to begin erecting modified grain bins as homes in Haiti, Brett Nelson, safety director at Sukup Manufacturing Co., couldn’t help but wonder how people would feel about living in them. The answer was overwhelming.

“They loved them. They thought they were beautiful,” said Nelson, who spearheaded the idea of modifying Sukup grain bins for use as shelters. Brad Poppen, an ag tech at Sukup, transformed a grain bin into a Safe T Home by adding, among other features, a specially designed roof to keep out heat and create airflow, as well as a ballast system to help anchor the structure.

The 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010 that killed an estimated 230,000 Haitians and left about 1.6 million homeless spurred Nelson to approach Sukup management with the idea of producing the modified bins as emergency housing. Nelson also contacted Carlos Thertus, president of the Haiti Relief Fund. Thertus founded the Haiti Relief Fund in 2004 after Hurricane Jeanne hit, and the organization was stretched to its limits after the 2010 earthquake. A partnership between Sukup Manufacturing Co. and the Haiti Relief Fund led the way to putting homeless Haitian families in new, all-steel homes.

Sheltering those in need
“The donation from Sukup was key to Haiti’s needs at just the right time,” Thertus said. “The homes are expandable, they keep out heat and bugs, and they are completely safe during the hurricane season.” Following the earthquake, many Haitians were homeless or living in tent cities. Safe T Homes provide a safer, more durable alternative to tents and other temporary structures. In addition, Safe T Homes are virtually impenetrable and feature lockable doors and windows, providing a level of personal security felt by few in Haiti.

Global Compassion Network, a charitable, non-profit organization based in Eagle Grove, Iowa, learned of the Sukup Safe T Homes and the company’s desire to help those affected by the hurricane in Haiti. Ken DeYoung, one of the organization’s founders, had been flying humanitarian missions to Haiti for some time. He contacted Sukup about establishing a partnership. Company president, ASABE Fellow and Past President, Charles Sukup, P.E., and chief financial officer Steve Sukup agreed to donate 14 Safe T Homes, and Nelson began coordinating the design and fabrication and putting the word out about them.

“I received dozens of calls from people who were interested— church organizations, missions, non-government organizations,” Nelson said. Along with Global Compassion Network, Sukup Manufacturing partnered with the Iowa Food & Family Project, an initiative launched by the Iowa Soybean Association, and Meals from the Heartland, an Iowa-based nonprofit that has packaged more than 20 million meals for hungry families around the world. The goal was to deliver 48 Safe T Homes by the spring of 2012.

It takes a village in the storm
In February of 2012, Nelson and three others from Sukup, along with members of the Global Compassion team and Iowa Soybean Association representatives, erected the first eleven Safe T Homes near Les Cayes, Haiti. The “Village of Hope” now has 49 Safe T Homes, arranged in seven circles of seven homes each. Each circle has a gazebo at the center as a gathering place. There are two wells, a water tower, and bathroom facilities with showers. The Village of Hope also has gardens, so residents can grow their own food.

During each day of that February build, at least 100 local people gathered at the construction site, hoping to land a job building the homes, Nelson said. “If you put your wrench down, it was gone. But not because they were stealing it. They wanted to work.” Nelson and others from Sukup Manufacturing—including Nick Sukup and employees Luke Erickson and Joe Germain—divided the local people into teams to work on sidewalls, roofing, and ballast boxes, and each team built two houses per day. The last of the first eleven homes was put up almost entirely by Haitians. The Safe T Homes not only provided many Haitians with a roof over their heads, they also provided security, pride, and independence, and the local people were excited to be part of that.

A key to the Safe T Home as transitional housing is the ease with which it can be built. An experienced team of four can put one up in just a few hours using minimal tools. Even a novice crew can have one up and ready in a day. The homes are a great value compared to other temporary shelters, and they are much more comfortable than one would imagine, Nelson said.

The standard Safe T Home is 5.5 m (18 ft) in diameter, with 2.4 m (8 ft) sidewalls and a peak of 4.1 m (13.5 ft). With 23.6 m2 (254 ft2) of floor space, each home can sleep ten or more people. The home is made entirely of galvanized steel, so it’s impervious to termites and moisture. It features a double- layer roof system that displaces heat, vented eaves, two windows that can be locked from inside, and a water collection system. The Safe T Home can also withstand high winds, is virtually earthquake proof, and has a life expectancy of 75 years. When Hurricane Isaac hit Haiti in 2012, it passed directly over the Village of Hope. All of the Safe T Homes weathered the storm perfectly.

“It’s extremely gratifying to be part of this effort and for our employees to use their expertise in a way that serves a higher purpose,” says Steve Sukup, company vice-president. “We believe in this product and the good that it can do for the Village of Hope and for people anywhere who need safe and affordable shelter.”

The mission continues, hope builds
Some of the Safe T Homes built in Haiti are still being used as temporary shelters for the original move-in families. Those families are learning agricultural and entrepreneurial skills, but they will move out when they find employment and adequate housing elsewhere. Then other families will move in. Prospective residents are screened by Global Compassion Network. “A larger Safe T Home has now been built and is being used as a clinic, and another as a church,” said Nelson. Nelson, Nick Sukup, and other crew members from Sukup Manufacturing have returned to Haiti to help put up more Safe T Homes. Each time, they are greeted by scores of eager workers of all ages, all wanting to do their part to strengthen their community.

There are now more than 70 Safe T Homes in Haiti, and Global Compassion Network is in the process of acquiring another piece of property for a second village. The acquisition process takes a long time, Nelson said, because of the complex property laws and recordkeeping systems in Haiti.

There is also interest in Safe T Homes in other parts of the world. A group of individuals from Uganda who are involved with Iowa State University’s Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL) recently visited Sukup Manufacturing Co. in Sheffield, Iowa. Henry Kizito Musoke, who was the head of Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns (VEDCO) at the time of the visit, was enthusiastic about the possibility of using Safe T Homes in African countries such as Uganda. Charles Sukup’s daughter Elizabeth has been to Uganda several times through her work with the CSRL, and she’s also excited about the possibility of using Safe T Homes there. “The fact that the doors and windows lock is wonderful and would be a blessing to women and children in Uganda and other countries,” said Elizabeth. Charles noted, “It’s interesting that the shape of the Safe T Homes is very similar to the traditional huts we’ve seen in Uganda. The fact that the Safe T Homes are steel is quite a change, but the shape is like the round huts with conical, thatched roofs that the local people are already familiar with.”

Sukup Manufacturing Co. is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013. As part of the celebration, the company is putting together a “50 Homes for Humanity” campaign that will involve raising funds to provide Safe T Homes to more communities in undeveloped nations like Haiti and Uganda. For more information on the project, visit: Buildings/144/Safe-T-Home.