A former Kelowna youth pastor Bill Hebner is building shipping container houses around the world to change the lives of people in need.
Starting 20 years ago in 1993, 47 teenagers from the Okanagan ventured into Tacate, Mexico, on the first trip to build two wood frame houses.
While he said the house was not much more than a garden shed with attitude, Hebner was amazed that the 11’ x 22’ wooden buildings were virtually palatial compared to the homeless state the recipients were living in prior to the arrival of the teenage team.
Watching the tears of joy from the locals receiving these simple gifts on that trip, Hebner was touched and started to realize how a large majority of humanity actually lives this way.
“Billions of people are exposed to the raw elements of weather and live in fear for their own safety and security night after night,” he said.
In 2009, after completing five alternative technology houses in five days to be used as an AIDS orphanage with a volunteer core of a hundred and forty-six teens and adults in South Africa, Humphrey Birkenstock, with Rainbow Radio 90.7FM, challenged Hebner’s paradigm by asking, “Though it is wonderful that your groups come and build houses for the poor year after year, what can we do for the 8.5 million homeless in South Africa? At this rate millions will never have a chance of having shelter in their lifetime.”
This bottomless gauntlet of need led Hebner to endure many sleepless nights before arriving at his fast-food service style approach to end world homelessness with these container houses: They were fast to build, could be reproduced by low or unskilled people, quality of the build was consistent, safe and securable; and it was scalable in time and materials to achieve something that can make a global difference.
In October 2010, Hebner led a team of five unskilled workers and a welder and left to build a simple reproducible three bedroom bungalow prototype using two discarded cube containers with those four challenges in his mind. In under a week the project was completed, a fully insulated home has now stood in the tortuous African sun for five years with little to no wear or deterioration.
“We were shocked at how fast, and at how little skill or energy this thing took to construct,” Hebner said.
Costing just under $10,000 in 2014 prices, the container house included a kitchen and a full bathroom, leaving Hebner to believehe had found a solution that works for everyone and changes the lives of people in need, from the townships in South Africa and villages in the Philippines to the hills of Nepal and even as an option for the homeless in Canada and the U.S.
Hebner has since taken the simple lessons learned from this house to then build nurseries, schools and even more homes for the poor, raising over $2,500,000 through private fundraising to build these structures over the past 20 years.
“The exciting thing is that shipping containers are now becoming an accepted building material within local authorities in western cultures and throughout the developing world. It is now so much easier to get the word out as building houses out of shipping containers is no longer a radical idea,” Hebner said.
“Most everyone in the developed and developing world has seen the pictures and videos of fantastic luxury homes built from these marvels of engineering. But what Bill is doing is streamlining the process to create introductory level housing that is affordable and realistic for all.
Hebner has literally written the book on how to build a practical shipping container house, in the hope that anyone can follow the step by step guide to building a house for themselves. He wants to put these plans into as many hands as possible to make a difference to those whose lives could be changed exponentially throughout these simple structures.
Shipping containers continue to be an ever growing, locally available, globally discarded, transportable resource. At a mere fraction of regular construction costs, Hebner wants to empower people to build these revolutionary buildings all over the world, and potentially right here in Kelowna.
“Imagine building your own 640 square foot three bedroom bungalow for under $10,000,” he said. “The beauty of this house is it takes very few tools. It can be built in the western world with all the luxuries of western culture or as a simple developing world or off grid solution that is insulated to meet the specific environment the homes find themselves in.”
For more information about Hebner’s container houses, check out www.amazon.com/Build-Simple-Bedroom-Shipping-Container-ebook/dp/B00OIG2BYU or watch the time lapse video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQkAQ8JMRmA
If you are interested in building houses and community buildings for people in need overseas, check out Hebner’s website www.youthmissionproject.org.uk.