Shelter for the homeless

Amal Chatterjee
8 min readSep 7, 2021

Source : Google photo of beautiful houses made with compressed earth bricks in India.

Synopsis : There are people who are homeless who sleep on the sidewalks of major cities in the world. They shiver in the cold and get wet whenever it rains so they do not have any protection from the elements. People in cars pass by but just ignore them because it is not their problem. So whose problem is it? Can’t the rich countries shelter their homeless population.? The blog looks at the answers to this issue in a meaningful way.

I have written earlier about the affordable housing for the poor where a small house is put together in a few days using prefabricated walls and roof but requires cement concrete, iron bars and plastering for finishing.

But now in Ghana one man has started to build houses with bricks made of waste plastic although it takes more than a few days to build a single bed room house that the video below will show you.

Source : U tube video

He claims that he can build a small house in 70 days for about 10000 USD and another 5000 USD for paint and furnishings that makes it over 15000 USD that many poor people and the homeless people cannot afford. But the idea of making interlocking bricks with waste plastic is interesting considering how many millions of tons of plastic are thrown away to pollute the environment globally. Some of it ends up in the oceans posing grave threats to the wildlife. There is an area of plastic that floats in the Pacific Ocean that is larger than the size of Texas so you can imagine how many millions of tons of waste plastic is there that no one seems to bother about. ( Read my blog on Curse of plastic pollution here. )

If I had money, I would rent or lease a factory ship equipped with all the equipment, hydraulic press etc. to make such bricks and tiles and go to the Pacific Ocean to pick up the trash and turn it into beautiful tiles or bricks. I would have inexhaustible source of plastic waste to pick up and clean up the ocean as well to save the marine life. When my ship is full, I will dock in some country to sell the things we made and go back making more just like what they do with the factory ships that catch and process tuna.

Imagine if someone just thought about it seriously, he could make a lot of money and help build millions of homes for the poor in the process.

The idea of interlocking plastic bricks that fit on each other like Lego is a wonderful idea because it does not require any special skill to build a wall with it and it does not require cement and sand mortar. Just watch the video of it and see how they build houses in Ghana this way.

So I was thinking that if so much waste plastic is available in every country that ends up in their landfills, in their waterways and just everywhere, it is just a matter of collecting it to bring it to a processing center that any government in any country can set up a low cost. It will be a onetime investment that will pay for itself in the short run but will start a revolution in the construction business to build mass housing for the poor and the homeless and solve the problem of plastic waste filling up the landfills.

It can also be done by the private sector where a rich businessman can easily set up a factory to build bricks out of plastic to build cheap but very sturdy houses in record times to solve the problem of housing for the very poor and homeless people everywhere.

I have already written how a Polish gentleman recycles waste plastic in his country to make beautiful and very strong roof tiles that he manufactures in different colors and gains good profit by exporting the tiles to other countries. There are many factories where waste plastic is turned into shiny plastic buckets, household things like molded chairs, tables etc so the waste plastic can be recycled this way but it uses only a fraction of the millions of tons of plastic waste that is available that goes to the dumps.

This gentleman in Ghana shows how he collects waste plastic of any kind, melts it down to make a thick paste, mixes sand in it , adds color and then using hydraulic press to mold beautiful and strong plastic bricks that he then uses to build houses. These plastic blocks have interlocking features so it does not require cement mortar to build a wall.

When I see the homeless people in the streets of so called rich countries and in other not so rich countries, I feel sad that countries that claim to be rich and spend trillions of dollars in foreign wars they could not win cannot solve the housing problem of their poor citizens. Homelessness is a worldwide problem.

India has very large slums in Mumbai and in many other cities where the poor people live and build their own shelters with whatever material they can scrounge but they do not have sanitation, water and parks where their children can play. If the government or the private sector people could build homes for them using plastic waste in a preplanned manner with roads, sanitation and drainage pipes underground at a low cost then the slum problem can be resolved in a beautiful manner. People from other countries will come to see the beautiful homes where the poor people can live with dignity and comfort. ( Read my blog called Affordable homes here)

Whenever the city planning for the mass housing is talked about, the question of cost comes up quickly because the site has to acquired and paid for and the infrastructure needed for such housing has to be developed at a great cost. Then there is the cost of the houses itself.

But what if a very large area like the one occupied by the Dharavi slum in Mumbai is developed this way while a temporary tent shelters could be made for the residents somewhere while the site is developed?

I know that China has worked very hard to build affordable homes and apartments for millions of its citizens all over the country so almost everyone has a modern home to live in. This type of development costs billions of dollars that the poorer countries cannot afford.

India has started building mass housing for its poor throughout the country but using the traditional methods of bricks, cement and mortar that need a lot of iron bars and finishing like in China so it is costly. So the solution to use waste plastic to make interlocking bricks to build houses seems like a very good idea.

Another innovative product called K Bricks are being manufactured from building demolition waste that is turned into high quality bricks using no cement so it is quite environment friendly and uses recycled building waste to make bricks under pressure. Watch the video below .

Source : U tube video

Another method is to make compressed earth bricks that are then used without cement mortar to build sturdy and long lasting beautiful homes.

Source : U tube video

In Ethiopia they build sturdy adobe houses at very low cost that you can see in the video here. My house in Mali was built this way except that the rooms were round in Malian style.

Source : U tube video

I had a house built for me in a Malian village that I had designed myself by the villagers. It was a beautiful house with 5 round rooms interconnected with each other that the villagers built with mud bricks dried in the sun. The 3 feet high foundation was built with laterite .Rooms were 4 meters in diameter so they were very spacious with windows for cross ventilation and with golden colored thatch roof .The floor was made of compact earth coated with cow dung once a week to give it a good dust free surface.

We screened all the windows and doors to keep out all insects like malaria causing mosquitoes so we were very proud of our house that many people came to see. They coated the outside walls with shea butter they made from the nut they gathered in the forest. It gave a waterproof and shiny surface and it protected the mud walls from the rain. I think I spent about 3000 USD for the entire house but that was in 1980. The lot was free. See the photos in the following link and read the blog here. ( Read the blog How to be truly self reliant anywhere here )

There are so many new and imaginative ways some people are building low costs houses with waste plastic, with compressed mud or with just mud bricks like they do in the African villages where no one is homeless.

But we see the tragedy of poor people sleeping on the sidewalks in major cities and looking for food in the dumpsters while fancy cars pass by never looking at them. If this happens in the so called rich countries then just imagine how the poor people live elsewhere. They are not protected from the elements so they get sick and die. They have nowhere to go for their morning call and have no access to fresh water to wash themselves so how do they survive? Why there is so much money for war but no money to provide low cost houses for these unfortunate people?

If China can reduce the poverty level drastically and provide decent modern houses for all its citizen then surely other countries with more resources can do it but it takes a national will and strong commitment to help the poor people so that they never have to sleep on the sidewalk getting wet and shivering in the cold. They too have every right to live in a decent home with dignity and the safety it can provide but who listens to them?

Source : Google photo of homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk.

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