(APN) ATLANTA The Mad Housers, a non-profit, volunteer, charitable organization founded in 1988 by a group of Georgia Tech architecture students, builds emergency huts for the homeless in the Atlanta area at no charge.
"We are just providing a basic piece of capital, " Nick Hess, 35, President of The Mad Housers, told Atlanta Progressive News (APN). The organization sees the huts as a tool to help the homeless survive and do not view what they do as "giving handouts. "
"This is not supposed to be where they live the rest of their lives, " Chad Jubyna, 36, a Mad Housers volunteer, said. "[These huts are] supposed to be a stepping stone so [the client] can have a safe place to put their things, a more secure place to sleep and stay warm. "
Each year, The Mad Housers seeks to build 18 huts and actually construct about 16. Most huts are 6 feet by 8 feet, are 10 feet tall, and are big enough for one person. They are simple structures, comprised of four walls with a gabled roof, a sleeping loft, a locking door and a stove for heating and cooking.
Atlanta Progressive News was fortunate enough to observe and participate in one of these builds on Sunday, February 26, 2006. To protect the privacy and safety of Mad Housers ' clients, APN has agreed not disclose the location of this hut nor any of the others.
Once on the brink of dissolution, the Mad Housers are stronger and better than ever.
"We 're doing a lot better, " Hess told Atlanta Progressive News (APN). "We have a warehouse, mailbox, an office, officers, and a functioning board. " Just five years ago, the Mad Housers did not have any of these.
Hess first became involved with the group in 1991 as a Computer Science student at Georgia Tech. After several years, Hess left the organization because of conflict and infighting. He returned in 2000, became President, and began working hard with other members to bring the Mad Housers back from the brink.
"I am fully confident that if I were to drop dead right now, the organization would be fine without me, " said Hess.
Volunteer rolls have swelled to over 150 in five years and show no signs of slowing down. "The volunteers we have are the greatest people on Earth, " Hess told APN. "These are guys who take responsibility, who stick with it, even when the rewards are nebulous, and who understand what we 're doing and why. "
"I 've always wanted to do something with the homeless [and working with the Mad Housers] seemed like the perfect opportunity, " said Chad Jubnya, 36, a Mad Housers volunteer for three years who has participated in nearly 20 builds. "I 'd like to be able to help more people, " Jubnya told APN. "I wish we could build every week but it 's a lot for the volunteers. "
The Mad Housers receives monetary donations from individuals and, because Mad Housers is a nonprofit organization, people who donate money can write off their donation come tax time. Mad Housers also takes old paint, doors, cinder blocks, firewood, and 2 x 4 's from anyone who wants to give.
"We 've built up a fairly decent surplus [of donations], " Hess told APN. For example, the group can call Home Depot, order $1500 worth of materials, and have it delivered for $50. This is a luxury the Mad Housers could not afford five years ago.
So whom do the Mad Housers help? "We handle from the absolute no-hopers to folks who are struggling, " said Hess.
One client for whom The Mad Housers built a hut worked at McDonald 's for 10 years. Because he could only work 28 hours per week at minimum wage, he could not receive benefits. This client struggled for years, going in and out of his hut, before he finally earned the means to leave the hut for good. Other clients are so destitute that it is doubtful they will ever leave their huts.
The screening process is not too rigorous. However, "it 's difficult ...to find people who can survive out there, " Jubnya told APN.