It was seven years after Brady King graduated Redondo Union High School that he had the idea for tiny aluminum cabins that would eventually become some of the first temporary, individual homeless shelters throughout Los Angeles County.

King was floating in a vacation pool thinking about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, said his wife and business partner Amy King.

“He’s one of those people who dreams up ideas all the time,” Pallet Founder and CEO Amy King said. “He was thinking about the Superdome and wondering about the inhumanity of cramming people into one congregate space.”

Brady King’s initial 2005 concept was designed as temporary shelter for disaster relief. It provided an individual solution that preserved privacy and dignity for the person experiencing the trauma. And, more than a decade later, the concept — with the help of the Kings’ employees, many of whom had once been homeless themselves — is taking hold as transitional housing for Southern California’s most vulnerable.

In the time of coronavirus, when people are not permitted to congregate because of the potential of community spread of the virus, an individualized approach to homelessness is needed, said Brady King. And, another advantage: Pallet shelters are easy to deploy and easy to store.

The approximately 8-foot-by-8-foot cabins are designed to be stored flat, he said — sort of like IKEA furniture.

“It’s meant to be palletized,” said Brady King, “so you can get as many flat packs on a pallet as possible.” Thus, the name Pallet. Thirty of the Pallet shelters can fit on one semitruck, said Brady, thus simplifying the logistics of transporting the units.

And, in a matter of hours, a Pallet shelter can be set up and ready for use.

In a matter of days, Pallet will provide transitional housing off Kingsdale Avenue for up to 30 individuals experiencing homelessness in Brady’s hometown of Redondo Beach. Mayor Bill Brand said the site should be operational before month’s end.

Each 64-square-foot cabin contains two beds, mattresses, a heater, an air conditioner and two electrical outlets. In some locations, such as the Redondo Beach installation, the city brings in portable toilets and mobile shower services. One of the Redondo Beach’s 16 units will house an on-site supervisor.

The Redondo Beach project is being funded by $420,000 in CARES Act funds that will cover capital costs. Another $409,000 in Homeless and Housing Program funds from the county along with $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds will cover the operating costs for up to nine months.

‘Social purpose company’

Amy and Brady King call the Everett, Washington-based Pallet a “social purpose company.” Ninety percent of the 100 people employed by the couple have either been incarcerated, struggled with addiction or experienced homelessness themselves, according to Amy.

In fact, repurposing the flatly stored, easily erected cabins from disaster housing into homeless shelters came from employees who encouraged the couple the concept would work.

In the early days of the product design, the couple brought the idea back to their residential construction company Square Peg. They talked to employees about temporary disaster response housing and employees said, sure, this will work for homeless shelters, too. Some of those employees had, at one time, experienced homelessness themselves, said Amy King.

“Pallet is really the brainchild of our people who have taught us everything we need to know and more,” said Amy King. She added hiring ex-cons “is our effort to create meaningful wage production jobs.”

In 2017, the city of Tacoma, Washington, became the first municipality to purchase Pallet shelters. They bought 40 units, said Amy King, and have added two additional orders. The Tacoma site now has 232 beds, said Brandon Bills, a Pallet spokesperson. And, that’s typical, he said. Cities order a small amount and then increase the number of units.

There are several Pallet sites contracted or planned in Los Angeles, but won’t be deployed until early next year, said Amy King. In Riverside County, 30 of the Pallet units were unveiled in March.

Amy King knows well the consternation of residents who live near the homeless shelters. Community adoption is one of the primary challenges she, as the company’s founder and CEO, faces.

“People want to know: Where are they going to go?” said Amy King. How does the neighborhood feel about it? People are afraid of what they don’t know. They don’t know our model.”

And that was certainly the case in the South Bay where residents were worried about the installation of the first shelters being erected in their North Redondo Beach neighborhood.

Redondo Beach mayor Bill Brand points out the Pallet shelters are intended for people who want help and who will use the community as a stepping stone to wraparound services such as mental health counseling, job placement and permanent housing placement.

“It’s not just some free place to live for a while,” said Brand, adding getting innovative solutions like Pallet shelters deployed can be controversial.

“But once it’s up and running,” said Brand, “people don’t even notice it and they actually realize it’s a good thing.”

Amy King agreed. Once neighbors understand the model, she said, they often change their tune.

One of Pallet’s larger installations, in Sonoma County in Northern California, had opposition from neighbors who didn’t want the site there, even for the temporary three-month stint, she said.

After the model was operational, said Amy King, “neighbors would interact and go over and donate items people needed. Just before the 90 days was up, they voted to keep the site there.”

Pallet has not yet had an unsuccessful installation that resulted in neighbors complaining enough to have the site removed, said Amy King.

Redondo Beach site’s future

In Redondo Beach, Pallet shelters will be in place for six months, and then the City Council will reevaluate. The Kingsdale site is authorized under an emergency exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act which permits the shelters there for however long the pandemic lasts.

With a little bit of training, the shelters can be easily disassembled and put back together in another location according to Brady King, who said sometimes cities ask to have them moved across town to another location.

Redondo Beach may explore alternative sites such as Moonstone Park, the former SEA Lab property, or Seaside Lagoon for the shelters, though those options were not popular in recent public hearings.

As for the Pallet shelters’ lifespan, Brady King estimated they can last at least 10 years, or longer. The units are comprised of aluminum, which doesn’t rust and each panel is made from nonorganic, fiberglass-like material that is easy to sanitize, he said.

Helping his hometown’s most vulnerable residents is not something he imagined doing while he was growing up in the area. And although the area has a small homeless population — between 120 to 176 people — he’s impressed Redondo Beach is doing something about it. Other similar communities, he said, sometimes just look the other way.

“Indecision is a decision and we can’t bail on people,” said Brady King.

“There are a lot of people here who get jaded and they forget that there are people here who are struggling,” he said. “Even in a nice community like this.”

Contact Lisa Jacobs or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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