Everett-based company builds 'Pallet' shelters to help address homeless crisis nationwide

There is a lot that can be done within 64 square feet. For someone experiencing homeless, their key to self-sufficiency could begin within that space.

Pallet, headquartered in Everett, builds customizable shelters in an effort to help address the homeless crisis in Washington and across the country. Amy King, founder and CEO, said the concept is a rapid deployment shelter solution to help people have a secure place to stay during their journey towards stability.

“We wanted to create something that we knew we could manufacture quickly, that we could set up quickly and we wanted to create living wage jobs with benefits for people in our community in the meantime while we are building it as well,” said King.

The shelters are equipped with a door that locks, windows, lights and a smoke and carbon monoxide detector. The rooms also have electricity that runs by a site’s existing power source, generator or extension cords.

Pallet Shelter crews can construct about 40 shelters in one week, and each unit takes 20 to 30 minutes to assemble on site. King said the durable structures are designed to set up as quickly as possible in order to get more people off the streets.

“There is a better way to help people experiencing homelessness. And that better way involves dignity, it involves safety, it involves honoring the individual person and their needs. But it also acknowledges the fact that we can’t provide their perfect solution as a silver bullet to solve this problem,” said King.

The shelters are not intended as a substitute for permanent housing, as they are not built with bathrooms or kitchens. King said the units are to be used as a temporary space, since permanent affordable housing isn’t build fast enough to fill the growing need.

“While we’re waiting for that housing to be built, thousands of people are sleeping outside and potentially dying in the elements. And that’s unacceptable. It should be unacceptable,” said King.

King said Pallet Shelter customers are typically city, county or state agencies. Non-profits have also purchased the units. She said once customers establish funding for the units and a location to place them, then they discuss interior customizing options. Since bathrooms and kitchens are not included in the structure, King explained it is up to the customer to decide if/where those options will be available at the site.

By the end of 2020, King said 11 states will have Pallet Shelter villages. The team is getting ready to assemble about 120 shelters in Oregon starting next week. In Washington, Tacoma and Lynwood each have one site. A new village is being constructed in Seattle at the intersection of 6th and Elliot.

“People can go in and stay for three, six, nine months while they’re stabilizing figuring out where they’re going to go next. And then if the site needs to be redeveloped or something else has to happen there or the neighborhood doesn’t want it there anymore, all of those shelters can be moved somewhere else,” said King.

The homeless crisis is personal for the team at Pallet. King said the shelters are actually a byproduct of their mission to provide as much job opportunity as possible. The company is a second-chance employer that hires people experiencing homelessness, recovering from addiction or exiting the criminal justice system.

“We’re trying to create as many jobs for as many people as possible. That is actually our goal and our mission to create jobs for people that are traditionally marginalized,” said King.

She is referring to marginalized people like Wesley Smith. Before working at Pallet, Smith said he spent three years in prison.

“I’ve been homeless, I’ve been a drug addict, so I know what it’s like to be out there in the streets,” said Smith.

The 44-year-old said he has been living a clean life since January 2017. He said his second chance at life may not have been possible without this job opportunity.

“I would have been back in prison. I was already starting to slip and slide. And once you start sliding downhill it’s hard to get back up,” said Smith.

A relapse is exactly what Pallet is trying to avoid with its rapid deployment shelter solution.

“We are trying to create a way for people to get safely housed, gainfully employed, and connected with supportive community. Those are the three things that we have found to be really successful in working with the people that we serve through employment,” said King. “If we can help provide those three things to people who are experiencing homelessness, I think we can actually make dent in the crisis that we have today.”