The Reality of Living In Less Than 200 Square Feet

Keith Howard | Monday, June 29, 2015

Page one story today in the Manchester Union-Leader about the Liberty Homes Project. While it’s very gratifying to have made the front page twice this year for what we’re doing, even more satisfying is the circumstances under which my name appears. Both of my parents are dead, but I’m certain if they’d pictured the name “Keith Howard” on the front of New Hampshire’s statewide paper, they’d have envisioned a raincoat over my wrists to hide the shackles. (Oddly, 10 years ago I wrote a novel whose narrator was in jail on murder charges and whose name was plastered across the paper. I guess that’s another story for another time though.)

Now that the Liberty Home is in one place, and has stayed put for 10 days, the reality of living in less than 200 square feet without water has revealed the challenges of daily life. For instance:


  • While I was very excited to splurge on a 12-volt coffee maker, the first morning made clear its inadequacy: a single cup of coffee took what seemed like 17 hours to brew. Given my need for caffeine in the morning, I was quickly re-converted into using a stovetop espresso maker for coffee.
  • How long does one let the waste in the Loveable Loo (read: a human cat box) age before adding it to the compost pile? For that matter, how much other organic material is necessary for composting to take place? Finally, without foodstuff being composted, are any animals drawn to waste product—and how do I avoid spending time with creatures with such appetites?
  • Drawing on a 12-volt deep-cycle marine battery powered by a solar panel presents a balancing act—how long can I leave on the exhaust and intake fans at night without depleting the battery? How much difference do the efficient LED lights make? Will a three-day rainstorm plunge me into darkness? (Full disclosure: I keep a fully charged car battery jumper system on site just in case.)
  • People are interested in seeing the Liberty Home in person—and I’m interested in their support. Still, it is my home. Other than making my bed—zipping up the sleeping bag and throwing a quilt over it, rinsing out my coffee mug and throwing my dirty laundry in the duffle bag, what obligations do I have as a host? Because I have not yet found the proper nozzle to attach the three-burner stove to the propane tank, I’m using a camp-style single burner. Adequate for me, but not for preparing snacks for visitors.

These concerns are, of course, Cadillac problems compared to those faced by the folks who come for assistance to Liberty House every day. Men and women living in tents beside a railroad track or huddling under bridges to keep warm would likely love to worry about how to keep power on or entertain visitors. Each time a homeless person thanks me for food or clothing, I try to throw up a gratitude prayer—the prayer “thank you, God” being my only conversation with that being. After all, I have a roof, I have electricity, I have a toilet and I haven’t yet been pictured on the front page of the paper in handcuffs.

-Keith Howard

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