Thursday, September 18, 2008

Team building exercise

Scenario: This winter, you have 15 applicants - friends and family and co-workers (and their kids) - who have asked to stay at your house. They are obviously desperate, and have assorted job losses, health problems, bankruptcies, home foreclosures, and disaster areas they are fleeing from.

1. A 30% probability your applicants will be able to find other decent accommodations if you turn them down. A 20% probability they will endure frostbite, starvation or death/severe illness from exposure if you turn them down. And a 50% probability they will be able to find a homeless shelter if you don't have room.
2. You cannot have people sleep in your kitchen or bathrooms. All else is fair game. They will be bringing their own sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, and clothes. You will supply couches, floors, and mattresses as available.
3. The majority of applicants will need to stay indefinitely - meaning at least 3 months. Many will need to stay 6 months, or until winter is over.
4. Applicants have only a little money. They will not be able to pay you except in barter or work arrangements. But they will be able to provide 95% of their own food from food banks, jobs they manage to find, and "free-ganing".

I know this is a terrible scenario, but it may well apply if there is a Greater Depression, a devastating winter in the Northeast or Upper Midwest, or if hurricanes continue to knock out power and cause flooding and destruction along the Gulf Coast. Maybe all of these and more.

OK - search the house - the garage - the attic - the enclosed porch - how many spots can you find for people to sleep? How many of the 15 friends, family, co-workers, and kids can you let stay with you for the next 3 - 6 months?

These people are now your team.

Freeloading is bad for the soul and the self-esteem. So, what will you ask them to do in exchange for their accommodations - will they cook? babysit? chop firewood? gather firewood? work in your garden? can food? build you a new kitchen? put up a fence? make new raised beds for the spring garden? put up gutters for your rainwater system? dig out a root cellar? build an adobe oven?

With a team of people, you can accomplish a lot. What will your team do with you?


MeadowLark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alison said...

Huh! You must have read my mind. Just this morning I was pondering how many apartment-type arrangements I could fit into my house.

I'm someone who needs to have harmony. Therefore my first priority would be to figure out who needs alone time and who loves being 'in the thick of things'. I would only accept into my home people who could get along together to a reasonable extent - no people who lose their temper!

My next priority would be to figure out what people are good at, who listens to whom, and which resources are going to cause conflicts. This way we could hopefully come up with things to keep people useful and also figure out how to handle resources before conflicts arise.

I'd like more area for growing, so any kind of vegetable and fruit beds would be good. Someone might be allocated to dispose of items we don't need for barter or money. I'd want a compost solution for the inevitable vegetable waste. Any tasks that no-one likes would be shared out on a rota.

I can probably think of more, but there are things I need to be doing, like cooking dinner :-)

Hausfrau said...

Meadowlark -

Sorry! I accidentally published the title before the post was complete! But thanks for the comment - I laughed and laughed!

Alison - Good point, compatibility is very important. Psychology is so key to harmony and productivity! Sounds like you already have a plan in place.

anajz said...

Meadowlark is a trooper!

DH and I were discussing this subject several weeks back and referenced how generations of families all lived under one roof. I cringed at the idea, but that was with me having to be in someone else's home.
Our home is always in a state of construction/disaster, so our first plan of action would include clearing floor areas. I am currently storing all of my teaching supplies in Rubbermaid containers to the ceiling in one room that doubles as an office/craft area. The room is such a disaster that nothing productive has come out of there in a very long while. In an emergency, I would move the items into our storage building. With sleeping bags, that room could easily "house" two adults and possbibly a small child. Keeping the dining area and the extra room that I currently use as a large pantry and holiday storage area clear of guests, I believe we could handle all 15 guests in an emergency. We might be tripping over one another, dine in shifts, and have to be on a schedule for bathroom time, but it could be done.
I became excited about your ideas for trade. I have some sheetrocking that needs to be done...some plumbing that needs to be replaced....a fence that needs to be finished and a new bathroom that needs to be built. Of course, you have to have the money to buy the supplies, so my home rennovation ideas are just dreams. The adobe oven would be a great idea to be able to keep up with the extra cooking that would take place with that many people.
If electricity was available in our emergency, we could house 6 additional people in our pop up camper and 6-8 more in our wall tent using a sheephearder's stove for warmth.
For the sake of sanity, I think I would designate my downstairs walk-in storage closet as a retreat from the rest of the "crowd"...a place where a person could go to get some quiet time alone with their thoughts.

Tara said...

Hubby and I have already given this thought, since we have 12 acres and could get a lot more done with other folks sharing it. For super-long term, we'd need to build another house, though! I've figured out that in our 975 sq. foot house, we could accommodate 4-5 more people in the house, although it would be tight. If we built out part of the barn, we could house more. I completely agree with the compatibility statement, especially since our living quarters are small. I'd be happy to trade accommodations and food for help around here, and with 12 ares plus animals, there's plenty to do, both inside and out! My biggest issues would be finding some alone time for myself, and brokering time with the TV, since most people I know are still addicted to the idiot box. There would need to be some kind of house rule about how much and when it could be on, or I'd go batsh*t crazy.

Verde said...

I like Alison's approach. I'm an introvert and *need* to come home for peace and regroup. I can fit 15 if they sleep on the floor and I hope they bring their own blankets and pillows. I think I'd hate this but could do it.

Just no one in my room but my family so I can have my space.

I think a ROTA is a great plan. Some peopple will begin to specialize - those who can't cook will get extra bathroom duty!

With that many people to feed there should be on person in charge of the kitchen. I kind of doubt that food banks will be functioning well as they are already streatched.

The adobe overn would get done quickly with more fire brick and adobe, but the garden is tall with weeds. If someone were willing to keep the fire small and sort out the things the ckickens could eat from noxious weeds then they could burn (carefully!). Then haul in manure to enrich the soil. That garden could keep 6 people really busy.

There's wood to be cut and hauled, fence to be put up for goats or milk cow, roosters to be slaughtered, feed to be gathered, fish to be caught and smoked.

If someone could freegather, we could close in the back porch to be a sun room to start bedding plants, if the ground isn't frozen a root cellar dug, bee hives set up, chicken tractor to build.

Hummm, when did you say the laborers arrived?

Gracie said...

I would have room to put up all 15. I have alot of work around the house and yard that need to be done. Specifically, put up the rest of the raised beds. Build the beds for the strawberries to be transplanted into. Two plum trees and one cherry to be transplanted. Retaining wall put up in the big ditch. Rebuild privacy fence. Finish garage. Build outdoor cooking area, including brick oven for baking. Move everything out of old garage into new. Close in old garage. More storage space in that area, as well as a gathering space.

Would also divvy up household chores.

green with a gun said...

"endure frostbite, starvation or death/severe illness from exposure if you turn them down"

In that case, I could not with conscience turn any of them away, I'd have to take all 15 and manage somehow. That'd be hard in a two bedroom unit which already has 2 people in it (sometimes 3), but you can't leave people outside to get sick or die. You just can't do that shit.

I don't think it's a realistic scenario, though. The average household size is 2.5 across the West, so you're suggesting that we're facing one of three scenarios,

(1) 7 out of 8 households have been made unliveable across the whole country - this would be a disaster without precedent in history, even countries bombed to smithereens in WWII only lost half their houses overall

(2) A majority of households in some small region like a state have been destroyed, and the people do not or cannot go interstate

(3) Something like 1 in 7 households have been destroyed, but 99% of the remaining households refuse to take anyone in; historically, people are not this selfish and nasty, and if they were the government would just regulate to force them to take them in.

(In WWII and in disaster times we often find that governments regulate who goes where, not because people are stingy, but because some people are too generous, and take on more than their house can handle, blocking up toilets and so on.)

A more realistic scenario is seeing your household have to take in another household or two. So your one bedroom unit with a single person or a couple gets another single person or couple, your three bedroom house with two parents and a child gets another three children while the parents go elsewhere for work, and so on. This sort of thing has happened a lot in history - sometimes you might have to triple or quadruple up for a couple of weeks until the people find other places to go, but roughly doubling your household is generally the most we find in any historical example.

The only time people have had triple or quadruple for an extended period is in ghettos in Nazi Europe. It's plausible though not likely that something like this could happen again. In which case we are all slated for extermination and it's time to get out of the country or take up arms rather than worry about which bedroom to put people into. Nonetheless, this is not a likely scenario.

So a temporary x3 or x4 to your current household size, and a long-term x2, that's more realistic.

It's also more realistic to imagine that the extra people you get can't get enough food. Certainly if things are nasty enough that one of the three scenarios above have happened, the food supply will also be very constrained. So the suggestions above of getting people gardening become very important.

What specifically I'd get people to do would depend on the disaster scenario. If houses are just abandoned then tearing them down for materials for extra rooms or garden beds or new houses is useful. But perhaps our water is all polluted, so it's good to set up solar stills. There are lots of possibilities, it depends on the details.

Hausfrau said...

green with a gun -
Thanks for your thoughtful consideration of the scenario. I agree, it's not "likely", especially on a national basis as in your analysis, but more of a remote possibility on a case by case, regional or city basis. I guess I was picturing something like a blizzard in an area where many people's heat had been turned off and the person who was most prepared in the area had to take a lot of people into their home... Actually in my original thought I was picturing something more like Tara after the Civil War, but decided that was really too remote. And as you and verde pointed out, if such an eventuality were to occur it would be likely the host family would have to provide quite a bit of their food. :)

green with a gun said...

Plus a blizzard would only last so long, certainly not 3-6 months as you suggested.

As I said, though, if there were the chance of anyone being sick, injured or dying by my turning them away, I don't see how I could - we'd cope somehow.

People having to take in the equivalent of the people who already live there, that seems a more likely scenario for months or years. Probably half of all homes won't disappear or be uninhabitable, but if even a tenth of them were, then once you factor in the selfish people and those who just genuinely don't have room, you could find that something like 1/4 to 1/2 of all homes have to take in another household's worth.

And that I think wouldn't be hard to cope with. On our current resources, realistically if we aim at frugal comfort then the extra utilities and food are going to cost about $30 per person weekly, we can easily afford that. The problem is that in any scenario where there are millions of people looking for new homes, our own household income drops, too. We have substantial savings but again we might suppose bank collapses, and so on. Likewise, I can't imagine a scenario which destroys heaps of houses but leaves the electricity grid intact.

So really we're talking about a much bigger challenge than just a few extra people.

I think that something like this falls under the area of housekeeping, really - which I've written about recently. I was focusing on spending, both dollars and carbons, but it's the same sort of thing.

In one of my responses to the comments, I guess I must have been inspired by you as I said,

"A simple test of our level of household skills is this: turn off the electricity, pull the leads out of the car, and whatever your current income reduce it to not more than twice your current rent or mortgage, for four weeks, 28 days. You still have water and natural gas, public transport and so on. But no power or car and much less spare cash. That means no machines or buying your way out of problems, things must be done by hand or foot. See how you go.

"The less your distress at this, the greater your household skills. Most Westerners, adult or child, would be very distressed at this and wouldn't last three days before giving up the experiment."

These are similar challenges, how to cope when you only have people and their own personal brains and brawn to fall back on.