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KTAR exclusive: Phoenix area woman rolls out mobile shacks for homeless

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A Valley woman who helps people for a living is on a mission to shelter the homeless herself by building and giving away mobile shacks.

Since January, nurse’s aide Shannon Palermo has built five mobile custom shacks for transients in Greater Phoenix at her Glendale home. She stocks each with a cooler of water, furnishings and toiletries.

“We, as human beings, deserve to have a safe place to sleep. It doesn’t matter what your story is, you deserve that,” Palermo said.

A giver by nature — she has volunteered at not-for-profit organizations for years — Palermo decided to start her own charity, Shannon’s Shacks.

Palermo collects raw materials such as wood, carpet and furniture by posting ads on Craigslist requesting donations. Once she’s collected enough material, Palermo breaks out her power tools and, with her own hands, builds homes for those who don’t have one. She taught herself basic carpentry skills.

“Unfortunately, in our economy there’s a lot more homeless people then we really realize and they’re kind of invisible to us and we want them to know that they’re not invisible,” said Palermo, said.

She also wants to let those who are homeless in the Valley know that they are not alone. That’s why Palermo started building the shacks, which can be pushed from place to place, no need for a car.

“The very last one I did was for a veteran. His name is Kirk. He has a dog.”

Kirk Ellsworth fell on hard times when he came to the Valley. Eventually, he ended up living on the streets. He said he was looking for a safe place to sleep. “She came by and said, ‘How would you like a little shack on wheels?’ ”

Palermo said Ellsworth was thrilled with the idea so she went to work. She finished a week behind schedule.
“The week passed and I didn’t get my hopes up too high and the all of a sudden here she popped up again,” Ellsworth said.

Now, Ellsworth has a roof over his head everywhere he roams. He said the shack has changed his life. “The thing is sturdy and it works. I’ve got a place where I can change my clothes, clean up. It’s kind of nice.”

Ellsworth said if he gets off the street he’ll hand off the shack to someone else in need.

Palermo recalled the first of the five shacks she hammered together, designed for a couple with two young kids living on the street.

“Once I was finished I went back to find the little family that I met and I haven’t yet found them,” she said.

So, that shack sits empty in Palermo’s front yard. She said hopes one day she can give them their home.