Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 14, 2023

City and Branch Technology launch 3D-printed shelters pilot for people experiencing homelessness

Mayor Tim Kelly tours the shelters with Branch Technology CEO Ryan Lusk and Chattanooga Chief Operations Officer Ryan Ewalt. - Photograph provided

The city of Chattanooga and Branch Technology are launching a new partnership to pilot the use of 3D-printed, single-unit structures as temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness.

“We’ve made great progress reducing homelessness in Chattanooga, but our work isn’t done,” says Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly. “We remain focused on closing the gaps that still exist as we shore up our affordable and supportive housing supply over the next 18 months.”

Two shelter units located off 10th street on a vacant parcel of land owned by Olivet Baptist Church will provide a location for residents to temporarily reside until they can transition to permanent housing.

Help Right Here, the nonprofit organization that runs the city’s sanctioned encampment, is managing the site and will provide support and services to the shelter’s occupants, who moved in last week.

The idea for the shelters was the product of brainstorming conversations between Kelly and his senior staff. After a visit to Branch and learning that the company had previously explored 3D-printed temporary shelters as part of their desire to give back to the community, the idea started to become a reality.

Branch led the design and development of the structures, which are powered, temperature controlled and fire-safe.

The city used $19,000 from its innovation fund to cover a portion of the cost for their construction, with Branch donating time for design and project management and Olivet Baptist donating use of the land.

If the pilot is successful, the city will evaluate the possibility of scaling the development and deployment of the temporary shelters at a reduced cost with support from Branch and the philanthropic community.

The shelter units are made of Branch’s CompositeCore, which uses their patented 3D-printing technology to create a structural lattice. Branch printed this lattice according to the design for the unit and combined it with robotically-cut, fire-rated insulating foam.

Branch then shipped the CompositeCore panels to the location off 10th street, assembled them in only a few hours and then finished with an industry-standard cement-based waterproof finish.

Earlier this year, the city announced a nearly 40% reduction in unsheltered homelessness in Hamilton County during 2022. The progress was due in large part to the Kelly administration prioritizing rapid rehousing of residents experiencing homelessness with follow-up services and support.

The city’s Office of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and its partners housed more than 1,000 residents last year, and hundreds more at risk of homelessness remained housed with support from the Eviction Prevention and Diversion Initiatives.

The city remains focused on building up its affordable housing supply, including permanent supportive housing units for chronically homeless people, says Kelly. Through partnerships with the AIM Center and the conversion of the Airport Inn, more than 130 of these units will become available over the next two years – enough to house and support nearly all of the 156 chronically homeless people the city identified this January.

Officials are also working with the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition to prioritize rapid housing for veterans and households with children.