Water-generating solar panels bring clean drinking water to North Long Beach housing community

The latest infrastructure upgrade to a transitional housing center for the homeless in North Long Beach has brought clean drinking water to its residents sourced directly by using sunlight and air.

The Atlantic Farms Bridge Community Housing center at Atlantic Avenue near the 91 Freeway provides homeless individuals with a bed, shelter and services to eventually secure permanent housing. The pandemic prompted officials to reduce the 125 bed capacity to 84 beds, which is currently at 30% occupancy as of Thursday, according to Deputy City Manager Teresa Chandler.

GRID Alternatives, a philanthropic organization that focuses on solar panel installations, partnered with Arizona-based company SOURCE to install two solar panels on the roofs of the housing center last month.

“This was the first time that we’ve installed something like this,” Ashley Christy, an executive director of GRID Alternatives, said. “The shelter let us know the panel is working well. It’s been a long journey to get us to this point.”

At the start of the pandemic, GRID received grants and partnered with nonprofits to help communities in need.

Christy said the company was looking for ways to help the homeless community in the Los Angeles area since the pandemic highlighted the struggles homeless people experienced living on the street, such as lacking access to drinking water. Nationally, more than 550,000 homeless people lack equitable water and sanitation access. SOURCE donated their water-generating panels to GRID who connected with homeless nonprofits to locate the housing center in North Long Beach.

Inside SOURCE’s panels, a fan running on solar-powered energy spins to suck in air from the environment. The air passes through a layer that collects water moisture droplets, which are stored within the panel. The water is dispensed through a traditional water faucet.

Lynne Boschee, a SOURCE spokeswoman, said the company was tapped by GRID to bring their state-of-the-art hydropanels to assist the homeless living at the center.

The company has water farms in rural areas in South America and Africa and the country provides services within 48 different countries, according to Boschee.

The new solar panels can provide three to four full cases of bottled water every week. A single panel can offset up to 54,750 plastic bottles over its 15-year lifetime, according to Boschee.

Christy from GRID Alternatives said the organization is hoping to partner with more nonprofits in the future on similar projects.

“We hope to connect more nonprofits to the community,” Christy said. “We hope this isn’t the last one.”

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Sebastian Echeverry is the North Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of his grant-funded position with the Long Beach Post. If you want to support Sebastian's work, you can donate to his Report for America position at lbpost.com/support.