Shipping containers put to use in Haiti

May 12, 2010 4:54:41 PM PDT
Four walls and a roof is sometimes all you need to provide shelter for those who have no place to live.

A Houston architect is turning big boxes into homes for those who need them most -- victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti -- and he's getting help from a Hollywood star.

They are the backbone of international trade, but what some see as just empty shipping containers, Christopher Robertson sees something more.

"It's a good way to reuse something that's just otherwise sitting there," Robertson said.

Using four shipping containers, Robertson built a sophisticated home near downtown Houston three years ago.

"You just paint it, and it's ready to go," he said.

A family moved in, and Robertson moved on to other projects.

Then the earthquake hit Haiti. Amidst the devastation and heartache, actress Patricia Arquette wanted to do something.

"I had this idea about shipping container homes because I knew they're built to exceed any US earthquake code, and built for the high seas," Arquette said.

An Internet search and a phone call out of the blue put Arquette in touch with Robertson.

"And because Houston's hot, and has hurricanes, I thought he might have some answers, and he said 'I want to help you,'" Arquette said.

From that, the Give Love project took shape.

Robertson, Arquette and a small team of volunteers are working to build 50 container homes in Haiti. They've located a plot of land, and nearby, 2,000 people are waiting for permanent shelter.

It costs about $4,000 to turn one of these containers into a home for a Haitian family. There is no electricity or running water, but it is safe, and secure.

"It's a place to get out of the rain; it's a place to sleep in a secure manner; it's a place to lock your stuff up," Robertson said. "It's a place that's not going to crumble on top of your head when another earthquake comes."

Robertson has designed a prototype and made several trips to Haiti. Within the next month, the first of these homes will be constructed.

"For the 50 families that we give these things to, it will make an absolute impact on their life," he said.

And containers that would otherwise sit empty in Haiti are set to change lives.

Arquette's foundation wants to develop ideas that can be used in poor areas and others hit by disasters, not just Haiti. Visit www.givelove.org to find out more.

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