Roger Williams, from left, Roger Loechler and Jason Paeper sit inside a pod to show how much space the interior offers. The pod is large enough to accommodate a twin bed. It has a window and door. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Roger Williams, from left, Roger Loechler and Jason Paeper sit inside a pod to show how much space the interior offers. The pod is large enough to accommodate a twin bed. It has a window and door. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
As the temperature drops, most of us crank up the thermostat and continue on with our lives.

But that doesn't work for everyone.

A local ministry has been working with new-found friends to help those who do not have the options of a furnace, or even a home in which to keep warm.

The "Takinit to the Street" ministry primarily focuses its efforts on helping the homeless. "We help everybody that no one else wants to help," Mike Straub said.

Straub is the pastor of St. John's United Church of Christ in Madison and an active worker with the "Takinit to the Street" ministry.

He said many of the homeless in the area are transient and that they can usually be placed in a surrounding city's homeless facilities. "We can send a lot out of town to shelters," he said, "but many have families here, they're from here and they don't want to leave town."

The problem, Straub said, is that as the temperature drops, many of the local homeless have a hard time making it through the cold nights.

"A lot of them live in tents. It is real hard to keep the tents dry and warm without the risk of fire."

It was that need that caused ministry leaders to begin looking for alternative solutions to keep their clients safe, warm and dry. They were looking for something more substantial than a tent, yet still relatively inexpensive for the non-profit group to be able to afford.

Their research led them to Mike Schneider of Lake Orion, Mich. Schneider has a website (www.tnttt.com) devoted to hobbyists who enjoy making teardrop shaped trailers and other kinds of small travel trailers.

"Takinit to the Street" told Schneider what they were dealing with and asked him if he had a few ideas. Within weeks, Schneider was sending pictures of a design that he'd actually been working on for homeless people.

"I was moved to design something. I didn't really know why, I just had to go out and do it," Schneider said. He designed a shelter that was able to be built quickly, inexpensively and able to keep a person safe, warm and dry.

Two weeks ago, Schneider and his wife, Michelle, delivered a built, painted and ready-for-occupancy prototype shelter, which he called a homeless sleeping pod, to Faith Covenant Church, one of the partnering churches of "Takinit to the Street."

Along with the completed pod, Schneider brought the prefabricated pieces for a second shelter. He and volunteers from "Takinit to the Street" built the second shelter in the alley behind the church at 217 E. Third St.

The construction took about half an hour. The design is reminiscent of horse-drawn wagons used by circus troops in Europe in the 1800's, with slightly angled walls and an arched roof. The shelter is light enough for two to four people to move. It has a small window on one end and a door on the other end. The window and door are outfitted with locks and the door also has a peep hole so the occupant can see who is outside.

"Security is a major concern in the homeless community," Straub said. "In most shelters in the cities, the men and women are thankful for a place to stay, but they have to cling to everything they own and they learn to sleep with one eye open. These are more of a secure place for them for sure." While designing the shelter, Schneider said he went through at least six different ideas.

"I started with a four-by-eight trailer - a really big design - then realized we couldn't do it on a trailer. We had to have something that two people could pick up and move. It kept getting smaller and smaller to what you see here."

The shelter is about the width of a twin-size bed and just less than 48-inches high. Schneider said he hopes to get the final construction material cost down to under $200.

Since the time of the delivery he has emailed plans for shelters that are still easier to build, with less equipment.

Local carpenter Bobby Cook, who helps with "Takinit to the Street" said he thinks that the shelter may already cost as little as $150 in materials, based on local material costs.

The shelters were occupied within hours of their completion. They are currently being used in a campground by the Ohio River that the ministry uses for its clients.

During a conversation on Tuesday, Straub said the goal of "Takinit to the Street" is to move people up, out of the circumstances that have them living on the street. "We don't want to keep them in permanent homelessness. We want to get them to a place of being self-sustaining, self-supporting," he said. "But you've got to start with them where they are."

As examples of the need, he spoke of a local senior citizen who was thrown out of his home by his daughter. "With the holiday's coming and all of the stress that come with them - financial struggles, emotional struggles and all that - it just escalates and if you are already having problems at home, things just go from bad to worse and you find yourself on the street."

He also told of two young men who were without shelter. They were sleeping when and where they could in hallways of buildings until they were moved out by property managers because of security concerns. "They've got to go somewhere, and we try to help them. These shelters, and more like them as we get them built, is a start."