Four people in four hours.
That’s how much manpower and how long the Riverhead-based Hunter Shelters says it takes to install one of its housing units the company hopes can be used on a mass scale to shelter storm refugees and those experiencing homelessness.
A new program from the Shinnecock Indian Nation and their development partner Dynamic Supplier Alignment Inc. of Selden announced Tuesday will provide new housing for tribal members and allow Hunter Shelters to prove its products — featuring kitchenettes and bathrooms — work.
The tribe has received several federal grants, including $9 million announced in June, to help it recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The money will fund the approximately $1.2 million project which will include five housing units and a new service center on the Southampton reservation.
"This project has been a long time coming and it's going to really help better the lives of the Shinnecock Indian Nation," Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock Nation’s tribal trustees, said during a news conference Tuesday. "One of the things that the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security] Act allows us to do is to begin starting to create a social safety net for our tribal members."
Three 12 X 24 foot one-bedroom units already have been erected on a one-acre site. Plans also call for a service building with meeting rooms and additional bedrooms and two more shelters.
Hunter founder and president Jack Hunter declined to say how much a single unit would cost as the company works to hit critical mass for its production. Using Hunter Shelters for housing while a storm-ravaged home is repaired was recommended in a 2019 Suffolk County Superstorm Sandy Review Task Force report which estimated a 288-square-foot-unit at $40,000.
The Southampton reservation is home to 819 tribal members, according to the 2020 census, who typically experience poverty and unemployment at higher rates than the rest of Long Island. Mortgages are not available to finance homes on tribal land, further complicating housing.
The units will be used by Shinnecock members to transition out of homelessness as the tribe develops economic opportunities for its people, Polite said. Eastern Suffolk BOCES also will offer training opportunities for carpenters to install the units.
The five Shinnecock shelters will be connected to the public water supply and the energy grid, and will be served with a nitrogen-reducing septic system, according to the tribe.
Phil Brown, the tribe’s housing director, estimated the number of Shinnecocks who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness to be in the low teens, but said many more stay with friends and family without a permanent living situation.
He recalled a friend who slept in the woods in below freezing temperatures rather than stay with family or friends, likely because doing so made him feel more independent.
"A few years later, he passed away from complications from probably being out there," Brown said. "When I became housing director and I still see people sleeping in cars and in trailers and campers that do not have adequate heat and running water, it tells me that something needs to be done."