[Paleopsych] WP: Storage Unit As Shelter Not Unique, Workers Say

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Mon Jan 10 23:02:48 UTC 2005

Storage Unit As Shelter Not Unique, Workers Say
Girls Found in Md. Shed Spotlight Housing Woes

[I'm always on the lookout for ways to keep down the cost of housing if 
and when Marshall Brain's dream of half the population becoming
unemployable and has to be warehoused. My grandfathers on both sides lived 
for a while in sod houses in Kansas, without electricity or running 
water, so a modern storage unit would have been a major step up for them.

[If decency requires coercive transfers from the employed to the 
unemployed beyond this, I should like to hear arguments beyond "this is 
how I want the world to be" and arguments that are data-driven, too boot.]

By Susan Kinzie and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 24, 2004; Page A01

In 20 years working in commercial storage, years when she has also had to
work nights waitressing at the Golden Corral to help support her children,
Robin Lawrence has seen lots of people living in storage sheds.

"Sometimes they can fix them up really nice," said Lawrence, who works at
Economy Storage in Waldorf. They might add insulation, carpet on the
floor, a bed, a rack for their clothes, a television, a hot plate, maybe
even a little grill out back. "It's just like a little efficiency, but
without running water."

The arrest of a 33-year-old woman last week for allegedly locking her 4-
and 5-year-old daughters in a commercial storage shed for three nights has
exposed a hidden corner of life. Yesterday, Reuben B. Collins, an attorney
for Felicia M. Dorsey, cautioned reporters not to judge too harshly until
all the facts emerge.

"A mother's love for her children may not be rationally understood under
every circumstance, especially as she and others struggle to survive,"
Collins said, declining to elaborate on what he called the "extraordinary
circumstances" of his client's life.

Social services officials have said that they want to confirm that Dorsey
is the biological mother of the girls. Collins said Dorsey is willing to
take a blood test to prove it.

Although the allegations shocked many people, advocates for the homeless
in Southern Maryland and other parts of the region said that,
increasingly, families have been driven to find makeshift shelter -- in
sheds, cars, unheated trailers and the woods.

Sandy Washington, of the Ministers Alliance of Charles County, a religious
group that posted bond for Dorsey, said that last year, the group helped
six families that had been living in storage sheds, and she has heard of
more. Dorsey rented a $65-a-month shed at Budget Self Storage in Waldorf,
authorities said.

Housing prices have risen so quickly in the Washington area, some
advocates for the homeless say, that people are driven to find shelter in
all sorts of places.

"We were not completely shocked to hear about this. We've heard of adults
living in storage sheds before," said Beth Flynn, program administrator
for Catholic Charities Angel's Watch Regional Shelter in Hughesville.
"We're always full, and it's only going to get worse in the winter. We're
turning away five to 10 families a day."

In Charles County, the median home price is $256,700, up 31 percent from
last year. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,218, too high
for 54 percent of county renters, according to a Baltimore-based advocacy
group, the Maryland Center for Community Development. And the rental
vacancy rate is close to zero, housing officials said.

The housing problem is reflected across the region. The shortage of
affordable and available rental units in Maryland grew by 17 percent from
1990 to 2000, to 76,000 units, according to the state Department of
Housing and Community Development. In the same period, Virginia's shortage
grew by 22 percent to 90,700 units, and the District's rose by 15 percent
to 22,500 units.

Waiting lists for subsidized housing vouchers are long in many places.
Charles County has more than 2,500 people on its waiting list, and
officials estimate that it takes three to five years to move up.

Some storage company managers said they could not believe that anyone
would want to live on a cement floor with no plumbing -- or that anyone
could, given how much security there is now at storage facilities. "That
blows my mind," said Heather DuBois, manager of Potomac Self Storage in
Lexington Park.

But storage sheds are used to house all sorts of things, from old sofas to
items that are against the rules, such as explosives. A newspaper in
Indiana wrote about a man who chose to live in a unit for years and
refused to leave even when people offered money.

"I've often thought about that -- before I started working at one of these
places -- that that would be a cheap way to live," said Shawn Wertz, who
works at Guardian Self Storage in Chantilly. "Get a little
climate-controlled unit. Get a membership at a health club" for showers.

He said, however, that finding people living there "doesn't happen too

Recently, his company discovered that an unrented unit in an Ashburn
facility had a customer's lock on it. A longtime client, a man who owned a
plumbing business and had fallen on hard times, had moved into a shed next
to the one he filled with equipment. The man was sent to a shelter to
spend the night, Wertz said.

Living last year at Economy Storage in Waldorf, Lawrence said, were a
young couple, the man in construction and the woman working odd jobs; an
older couple, a minister and his wife; and a woman who owned a car and had
a membership at a nearby gym. After what amounted to a neighborhood
dispute took them to court, the judge asked the county to look into the

The people had to move out immediately, since living in a storage shed
violates housing codes.

"They just want a place to sleep at night where they're not wet, not
cold," Lawrence said. Most people who stayed there went to work every
morning and came home at night and didn't bother a soul, she added.

Staff writer Arthur Santana contributed to this report.

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