The lot for Dundee Village sits adjacent to the Tiny Houses complex in Savannah's 3rd district.
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The lot for Dundee Village sits adjacent to the Tiny Houses complex in Savannah's 3rd district.

When COVID-19 hit Savannah, city leaders were particularly concerned about the homeless population — or “roofless people,” as 3rd District Alderwoman Linda Wilder-Bryan prefers. Her drive to help people who couldn’t get into shelters led to a proposal for “Dundee Village.”

Now, plans are underway for a safe and sanitary complex of tents – which will later be converted to livable shipping containers – to house people displaced by the pandemic and at risk of contracting COVID-19 on the streets."On Second Thought" host Virginia Prescott speaks with Linda Wilder-Bryan.

“We just wanted to do something that would take care of people that we just tend to forget,” Wilder-Bryan said. “Just because you’re roofless, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get the services that you need to change the quality of your life.”

The property for Dundee Village sits adjacent to the Tiny Houses project, which houses military veterans experiencing homelessness. Currently, the 1.5 acres of land is surrounded by a chain-link fence and receives electricity from Georgia Power. Amazon agreed to exchange community-donated tents for larger, waterproof ones, which will serve as temporary shelters until converted shipping containers are put into place. Local architect Patrick Shea plans to design those containers pro-bono.

Wilder-Bryan says that eventually, the community will house 75 to 80 people and will have a command center offering wrap-around services, including medical care, help with accessing food stamps, and even employment assistance. While there will be a code-of-conduct, Wilder-Bryan says it’s important to seek input from community members themselves.

“The best way for people to live in any surroundings is that they make their own rules,” she said. “They’re more often to follow their own rules. They want it to work.”

Wilder-Bryan noted that this community is not intended to be permanent, but rather an opportunity to do better for the people living on the fringes.

“It’s a temporary Band-Aid fixture to give people the desire to build some trust,” she said. “A lot of them are not trusting. And so the idea is once we build trust, we can get them on a path — or maybe some employment — that they would not want to stay here. We have to prepare them.”

City manager Pat Monahan stated that there are about 3,000 people experiencing circumstantial homelessness in Savannah, and another 1,000 chronic homeless individuals. However, Wilder-Bryan says that after years of talking to people in these circumstances, she’s come to prefer the term “roofless.”

“When you go into these communities, the homeless, the first thing they say is that they’re not really homeless – they just don’t have a roof,” she said. “They’ve built an environment that they call home. And so, I started calling them ‘roofless’ people, because that’s what they were more comfortable with.”

Dundee Village has received an outpouring of donations from the community, from tents to clothing and food. Wilder-Bryan thinks COVID-19 may have played a factor.

“The one thing about this pandemic is, people who do not have time to think about the suffering of other people – it became, ‘I’m suffering too. But just not as much as the roofless people,’” she said. “And so, it was just overwhelmingly humbling to see that people cared and wanted to send bugspray and socks, and it kind of grew its own legs. I’m so happy that people heard my call for help, call to action. It was amazing.”

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On the current state of Dundee Village

Right now, it's just 1.5 acres of land that sits next door to the tiny houses at the top of the 3rd District. The city manager has paid for the chain link fence to circumference the area to add some security. Georgia Power has added the lights. And so now we're just waiting for the tents to come back. People were so excited, they sent tents in and we had to exchange tents so that they would be waterproof. Amazon has graciously said that they would take them back because they're still in boxes. We're just waiting for the truck to come from North Carolina that will house the shower stalls and the bathroom stalls.

On the permanence of Dundee Village

It's a temporary Band-Aid fixture to give people the desire to build some trust. A lot of them are not trusting. And so the idea is once we build trust, we get them on a path or maybe some employment that they would not want to stay there. We have to prepare them. This is not the end-all, but it is a first step in acknowledging that there is a need and that we know it and they know it and we've just got to do better. And I'm just so proud of our city manager who understood the plight. When no one else wanted it in their district, I was like, "Oh, wow. You know, if you can find a site for us, I'd love to put these new tents in an area that would be not so much an eyesore,” — because people say that they want to help. And then when it comes into your neighborhood, they have these thoughts that, "I'll help, but just not around the corner from me.'' 

On why Wilder-Bryan uses the term “roofless”

That term, I've been using that for the last eight or nine years because when you go into the communities, the homeless, the first thing that they say is that, you know, they're not really homeless — they just don't have a roof. Because they've built an environment that they call home. And so I started calling them "roofless" people because that's what they were more comfortable with. I always try to meet people where they are, and so if a term is going to be more agreeable to them, then they're "roofless" people. And that's how that came about.

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