Results of the Liberty Home Project

Keith Howard | Monday, March 28, 2016

The Experiment

About a year ago, Liberty House began an experiment in alternative housing, transforming a cargo trailer into a home, a Liberty Home. The results are in, they are conclusive but they are not what we had expected, at least in one important way: although the home drew tremendous support and interest from people nationwide, almost no homeless veterans have any desire to live in one. Because of this, we will not build any more homes until and unless Liberty House residents want to move into them.
The Liberty Homes experiment had as its primary hypothesis:

“An enclosed 8’ by 23’ cargo trailer can be converted into living space suitable for year-round New England life. This space will be both livable and likable. “

When we set out to do this, the challenge was the conversion. Among the challenges to be overcome were:

  • Toileting
  • Heat
  • Electrical power
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Efficient use of space, etc.

When Lucy, my shepherd (by breed not metaphor), and I moved in last June 21, we began the experiment. Among the greatest and most gratifying surprises was the overwhelming goodwill we received from everyone who heard of what we were doing. As an example, the Raymond New Hampshire Board of Selectmen asked me to speak to them about our goals and vision, and promised support throughout the process, a promise they have kept completely.


Livability Versus Likeability

The livability portion of the hypothesis delivered a positive result. Summer brought heat, solved with windows and battery-powered fans; fall brought chill, solved with a propane heater during waking hours and extra blankets when sleeping; winter brought more fall, because we never really had a winter this year. The Liberty Home (which I colloquially called “The Box”) was very livable. That was good.

“Livable” is a measurable and objective word. On its simplest level, one could test the livability of a space by putting a creature inside, along with food, air, etc., and see if the creature survives. A mouse, along with food and air, cannot live long in, say, a running gas clothes dryer. Contrariwise, a human being can survive a long time at the bottom of a dungeon cell; ask any of the forgotten prisoners in the Bastille.

“Likable,” on the other hand, is about as subjective as a word can be. If I enjoy eating anchovy pizza (and I do), it is likable, at least to me. My experience tells me anchovies are not likable for most of humanity.   In fact, they are a disqualifying part of likable to most people I know.

Thus, on to the likability of the Liberty Home. I find it likable! I find it LOVABLE, in fact. While 192 square feet may seem small to most readers, I found it to provide plenty of space to have three separate living areas: sitting, sleeping/toileting and dressing. In an earlier blog post, I alluded to spending time at a friend’s house and finding her three-bedroom cape cavernous with space. So, I didn’t see the challenge in space.

Everyone else still did, though. Each time I’d be asked about my living situation, I’d talk about the joy of simplicity, the casting off of unnecessary possessions, and the pleasure of living off the grid. Once they’d determined how I went to the bathroom, the next questions was how I managed in such cramped space. Word of honor: I never felt cramped in slightly less than 200 square feet, not even for a second.


Liberty Home Results

It turns out I am an outlier. Over the year since inception, in talking with thousands of people about the project, only ONE formerly homeless veteran has expressed any interest in following my lead: Dan, the vet who did upwards of 98% of the initial transformation. In exchange for all the work he did, Dan has been awarded ownership of the Liberty Home, and will be transporting it to its new home at the end of this week. That is for the good.

What this all demonstrates, I think, is the equivalent of proving anchovy pizza is edible, but not that it’s going to be a big hit with the target audience. We demonstrated:

  • The Liberty Home is livable, and
  • The Liberty Home is likable to significantly less than 1% of the population.

As always, the scientific method leads to further hypotheses to be tested, none of which are likely to apply to any more humans than the initial experiment. As a personal next step, having left the wide open space of the 8’ by 23’ Liberty Home, I am now living in a 4’ by 12’ portable box. This leads us to at least two research questions:

  • We all know what claustrophobia is, but is there an opposite state called “claustrophilia,” the love of small, enclosed spaces?
  • Will I eventually live in a coffin with air holes and a tube for feeding, with both accessories removed at my demise?

In closing, the Liberty Home experiment provided evidence that may prove useful to future claustrophile veterans, it gave the people of Raymond (and many other nationwide) the experience of supporting a quirky but potentially useful idea, and it gives Dan a new home to live in, one which I have loved and cherished.

-Keith Howard

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