Egyptian Eco-Communities: Reintegrating the Homeless

Homelessness is an issue that countries are struggling to address. Professor Ayman Mosallam’s proposal for building Eco-Communities represents an innovative solution that equips homeless people with new skills and purpose. At the same time, the Eco-Communities also promote sustainable living.

Introduction

Homelessness is a big challenge. Many countries are facing a critical situation when it comes to developing agricultural, food security, housing, educational, and infrastructure systems for their low-income and homeless populations. For these groups, achieving a sustainable living standard as well as a higher quality of life is beyond the usual scope of free market-driven economic systems.

According to the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity, there are at least 12 million homeless people in Egypt, including three million children. In addition, the Ministry of Local Development and the National Institute for Planning released alarming information in their 2015 Human Development Report: fifty per cent of the Egyptian population does not have access to sanitation. The government would need around 140 billion pounds in order to complete its sewage projects in villages and cities before the end of 2020.

Proposed Solution Strategy

Research has shown that homeless people need access to a one-stop-shop of services on top of shelter, so that they can return to independent living in the long term. This is where the proposed Eco-Communities programme comes into play through which significant and sustained industrial, agricultural, and social development can be achieved. It requires a specialised, multidisciplinary team that develops a unique, innovative, and customised process.

The strategy focuses on a housing-first approach to reduce homelessness and poverty, recognising that housing stability is essential for self-sufficiency and full societal participation. Yet, rather than providing housing, the proposed concept seeks to integrate the homeless into the process of designing, constructing, and maintaining an infrastructure. Through this, they gain life skills and develop personal connections which ultimately improves the community and enhances sustainability.

Eco-Communities Foster Rehabilitation

The purpose of “Eco-Communities” is to develop safe communities where homeless citizens of all ages can regain their place in society and make positive contributions to their lives as well as to the welfare of the nation. The Eco-Communities will be based on a multi-tiered system that will incorporate specialist expertise from various disciplines to move disadvantaged homeless people through a step-by-step process of growth and personal development. This process prepares them for participating in one of the new communities or villages.

Every individual who joins the Eco-Communities is referred to as a participant, volunteer, and resident – regardless of their physical and mental capabilities or family circumstances. Everyone is carefully screened to determine his or her particular needs, capabilities, interests, and limitations. Then they are placed accordingly in positions where they have the highest probability of success.

Model Description

The proposed programme envisions the development of 5,000 hectares of rural as well as urban land to establish Agro-Industrial Eco-Villages with sustainable permacultures, that will employ an agricultural system and methodology seeking to integrate human activities with their natural surroundings. This way, highly efficient, non-polluting, financially viable, and self-sustaining ecosystems are created.

The Five Phases of the Eco-Community

The development schedule of the Eco-Community will be contingent upon approvals from the appropriate Governmental agencies and institutions. Once the approval is granted, the principals of the Eco-Community will assemble a multidisciplinary consortium of both local and international firms and organisations to design, finance, construct, and manage the first of the three proposed Eco-Communities. As one of the primary goals of this project is sustainable development, the geographic and topographic location of each Eco-Community will have a significant impact on the type of agricultural and industrial enterprises chosen. The project will be developed in a multi-phase protocol. The first phase will focus on selection, classification, organisation and assignment of volunteers into individual brigades or work forces, which will comprise the backbone of each Eco-Community.

The second phase will be a period of transition for the volunteers and will be designated as the Transition Community Phase. Assuming volunteers have been successfully reorganised into effective work brigades, the principals of the Eco-Community will use the second phase to develop and implement training programmes for the newly segmented population. Training will be in the classroom and hands-on. Suppliers, contractors, and developers will be encouraged to participate in the development and implementation of training programmes to help accelerate the learning process.

The third phase will correspond to Construction Phase I and will take place at the proposed location of the Eco-Community. During this phase, participating contractors and organisations will be required to hire a fixed number of Phase II Transition Community (TC) graduates and provide them with proper training. This means that by the end of Phase I they will be equipped with the necessary skills to secure regular employment. Based on this assumption, it is reasonable to conclude that some of the community members might be kept on by the participating companies and subcontractors on a permanent or temporary basis.

The fourth phase of development will focus on completing the Eco-Community and ensuring that all participants have established a place of residence, developed a workable and profitable skill, and are motivated to work towards the maintenance, upkeep, and sustainability of the Eco-Community. In this phase, contractors are expected to confer greater degrees of responsibility on the volunteers. During this phase, all the required housing and associated infrastructure will be completed. The theme of sustainability should be evident in the design and be used in all buildings. Volunteers are expected to take advantage of the sustainable energy requirements and learn, understand, and utilise techniques related to energy-efficiency and self-sufficiency. For example, affordable solar systems will be installed for generating electricity and for pumping ground water. A biogas system will utilise the manure from their livestock to generate free, clean fuel for cooking, and provide organic fertiliser for all residents.

The final phase of development will be designated as the Consolidation Period. During this period, the principals, with the assistance of social workers, contractors, and other specialists, shall ensure that the volunteers who helped to construct and organise the Eco-Community, are in a position where they can successfully maintain the Eco-Community. At the end of the project (after the city has been completed), as much as 10 to 15 per cent of TC members may have already been rehabilitated. Indeed, some of them may want to participate as community leaders and builders for the next community.

Ayman S. Mosallam

Professor Mosallam is a Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). He is the Founder of the Egypt Green Building Council and principal author of the Green Pyramid Rating System (GPRS). He is a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a registered Professional Engineer in USA. He has published over 500 technical papers, chapters, and reports and edited and co-edited seven books in this area. He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including Outstanding Research Award, OCEC President’s Award, Best Design Paper Award, and Outstanding Engineering Educator Award, among others.
Ayman S. Mosallam

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