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The Independent Culture
HOMELESSNESS is a growing problem on both sides of the Atlantic, but some cities have a more imaginative response to it than others. Most Londoners have, sadly, grown accustomed to the sight of down-and-outs sleeping under cardboard boxes. But fo r the past year or so the citizens of Los Angeles have been getting used to a quite different sight: a village of homes for the homeless, each in the form of a fibreglass, solar-powered geodesic dome.

Genesis One, as the village is known, was created as a pilot scheme by Ted Hayes, a former minister and one-time manager of breakdancers who decided to become homeless 10 years ago. "I felt that the only way to really help homeless people was to opt out and work among them," he says.

In November 1993, on a disused parking lot next to the Harbor Freeway, the futuristic "Dome Village" opened. It was financed mainly by a $250,000 (£165,000) grant from the local company ARCO, and local government helped by waiving planning and safety regulations. The village consists of 18 "omnispheres", each designed for two people, and containing cooking and washing facilities; each takes only three to four hours to assemble. Many of the first residents - there were 24 of them - were living nearby in plywood shacks. "Before we began," says Ted Hayes, "we showed them the plans, and asked them if they wanted to join the project. About six left - the rest decided to try it." The village has drawn praise from many quarters, including the Prince of Wales.Donald Dunigan, a resident, says: "After I lost my home I used to notice this place when I was on the freeway. I came down and made inquiries. It's a place where a person can put life in perspective."

Despite a waiting list of 150, financial problems have beset the project during its first year. So far, help has arrived just in time, once from the actress Glenn Close and the cast of Sunset Boulevard, who raised $30,000 by selling autographed posters, and once from the City Council and Los Angeles County, who came up with $27,500. Other problems, too, have caused unfavourable publicity. In January, two residents were arrested for allegedly kidnapping and raping a local television chat show host. Afterwards, one was found to be wanted on a murder charge, and is now in jail pending trial.

But Hayes still believes that the village has a promising future. "We'll continue for as long as the local community wants us," says Hayes. "We've cleaned up the place, and prostitution and crime are down." He wants Genesis One to become a training centre so that other villages can be built in the area. There has been interest, too, from South Africa, Chile and Brazil - and, recently, from a representative of Scotland Yard. Perhaps Britain's first Dome Village is not so far away. !