A plot of land in Salt Lake City is being transformed into a community of temporary housing with the use of foldable shelters.

The "microshelter" community will have 25 structures, each 20 feet long and 8 feet wide. It looks similar to a trailer or shipping container and is made of galvanized metal with a steel frame.

The noncombustible and insulated dwellings are divided into two private units that are each about 75 square-feet. Every unit is equipped with a bed that folds into a table and chairs, electrical outlets, a heating and A/C unit, a window with a screen and a door.

The microshelter project was a collaboration between Salt Lake City and the Utah Office of Homeless Services. It is part of a pilot project this winter to shelter people experiencing homelessness.

Wayne Niederhauser, state homelessness coordinator, said the city looked into sanctioned campgrounds but determined shelters would better serve the homeless population in Utah.

"We wanted to have microunits that are heated and cooled. You can lock the door, your personal belongings are safe and you feel safe when you have that personal space," Niederhauser said during a installation demonstration Thursday. "The main concern we've had is safety and security for those who will be using these facilities. We just didn't feel tents meet that standard long term."

Niederhauser said they chose Foldum Corp, a California-based company, because Foldum structures are designed for low maintenance and durability.

Foldum Corp created the "rapidly transportable, civilized housing units" to be used for homeless housing, disaster responses and more, Foldum CEO Ryan Rossi said.

State Homeless Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser speaks about the setup of units for a microshelter community at a site near 300 South and 600 West in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
State Homeless Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser speaks about the setup of units for a microshelter community at a site near 300 South and 600 West in Salt Lake City on Thursday. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

The dwellings can fold down flat, allowing for up to 12 shelters to be transported on one 18-wheeler truck, which reduces transportation costs, Rossi said.

To construct the shelter, a small crane pulls up the roof, straightening the side walls. Two workers then easily fold up the end walls and lock them into place in a process that take less than three minutes.

"The objective is for people to come here, stabilize and move on to housing," Niederhauser said.

Water will not be provided to the shelters and will be determined by the provider who runs the community. A provider will be selected by Dec. 1. The Utah Office of Homeless Services anticipates shower trailers and portable bathrooms, or something similar, will be installed.

The community will be temporarily located at 300 S. 600 West, in Salt Lake City, and is expected to be operational by mid-December. In the spring, the shelters will be moved to a more permanent state-owned site.

Niederhauser said the state spent about $640,000 on the 25 structures, which will accommodate about 50 people. When the community moves to a state-owned site, it will most likely expand, he said.

Individuals who occupy the units will be selected through a coordinated entry process by Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness. Niederhauser said some people do better in non-congregate housing rather than congregate shelters, so occupants will be evaluated based on their circumstances.