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Newport Beach councilman crafts fiberglass huts to house homeless

An example of a single-occupancy fiberglass SafeHut, made at the Duffy Electric Boat Co. factory in Adelanto.
(Courtesy of SafeHuts)

Newport Beach City Councilman and boat builder Marshall “Duffy” Duffield is now manufacturing tiny houses to shelter the homeless, using the same materials and principles he draws on to make his eponymous leisure craft.

Known as “SafeHuts,” these micro-homes are portable, shed-like structures made with a vacuum-infusion fiberglass construction, making them sturdy, weather-resistant and easy to sanitize, the company says. They can hold one to four people and are geared toward governments and nonprofit homelessness service providers looking for bridge housing to get homeless people off the street.

“I saw the challenges facing cities and counties to provide temporary homeless housing. I wanted to help by using my knowledge and manufacturing experience to create safe, secure and humane housing for our unsheltered homeless population,” Duffield said in a statement.

Homelessness is a national crisis that has not missed Newport Beach. Solutions that balance the complex needs of homeless people, community expectations, legal requirements and governmental guidelines and resources have been hard to come by.

Email david.carrillo@latimes.com to sign up for the newsletter featuring the latest news involving Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, Fountain Valley and other parts of Orange County.

In Newport, after months of discussions, an attempt to develop a homeless shelter — possibly holding up to 40 people in a cluster of trailers in the public works yard — petered out earlier this year when the city received no bids from potential operators. The city said it would regroup.

SafeHuts are manufactured at the factory in Adelanto, where Duffield makes his Duffy electric boats. The Duffy Electric Boat Co., which Duffield launched as a teen in the early 1970s, is the world’s largest manufacturer of fiberglass electric boats.

Duffield is the chairman of the board for SafeHuts, while his two sons run marketing, procurement, manufacturing and quality control. Longtime Orange County Republican consultant Dave Ellis, who served as Duffield’s campaign manager, is SafeHuts’ director of business development.

SafeHuts rolled out a prototype earlier this month. In addition to housing homeless people, the company will market to agricultural operations looking to shelter their migrant farm workers, Ellis said.

The huts are available in a single-bed, 60-square-foot model and a double-bed 80-square-foot model. A 120-square-foot, four-bunk model is in development.

A standard model comes with vinyl mattresses on folding bed frames, drains in the floor for fast cleaning, locking doors, three operational windows and solar-charged interior lighting and USB ports. Customers can also add heating and air conditioning, shelving, additional reinforcement for severe climates and custom colors.

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