- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) - The grass is a vibrant green outside Jackie and Austin Ice’s trailer home, rejuvenated by a barely controlled wildfire last fall. The prairie meanders into the sweep of hills on the other side of the road, where the Wounded Knee Massacre site lies.

Sitting on the steps of her new deck one warm afternoon in April, Jackie Ice, 47, recalled hearing stories of restless spirits when she was growing up. The deck is attached to a sturdy wooden frame built around her trailer home and capped with a metal roof, its ribbed panels a darker shade of the springtime jade spreading across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The color is intentional, designed to blend into the landscape.

Erected last summer, the wood and metal shelter can’t protect the Ices’ fragile home from wildfires, but it has kept out the slashing winds, snow and rain. “It’s a blessing,” Jackie told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/2pAKKhn ).

Without it, she said, “eventually our house would have caved in.”

It is one of 10 pole structures raised over trailer homes on Pine Ridge last year by Waves For Water in an attempt to push back against the housing crisis there. The reservation has hundreds of dilapidated homes, many of them without running water, heat or electricity.

The Los Angeles-based international nonprofit humanitarian organization plans to build dozens more in the coming years. The pole structures, which cost around $25,000 each, are built and installed for free by Waves For Water.

In addition to its work on Pine Ridge, the nonprofit also provides disaster relief and clean water to more than two dozen developing nations across the world, including Haiti, India, Peru and Nepal.

“I don’t look for what’s wrong, I look for what’s missing,” said Jack Rose, a project developer with Waves For Water. “And what’s missing here is good housing.”

Rose, 68, says the pole structures are built “to last for generations.” He calls his pilot program the House-2-Home project. It’s his way of helping to reverse what he describes as a historic downward spiral in Indian Country by contributing to the positive forces already at work in one of the poorest places in the U.S.

To that end, Rose has partnered with local businesses, community leaders and nonprofit groups on the reservation over the past year. “The real story is the people, the Lakota,” Rose said. “People who have nothing and are surviving.”

Unemployment on the reservation has reached as high as 85 percent in recent years, but Rose’s group is helping to fix that too.

Waves For Water hires crews of young Oglala Lakota men and women to build the pole structures at a wage of $10 an hour. If they don’t know how to work a saw or hammer, that’s OK, Rose says, because his team will teach them as apprentices in carpentry.

A designer by trade as well as a self-described “conjurer” and “freelance problem solver,” the silver and wispy haired Rose grew up surfing in Santa Monica Bay, with the “ocean in our front yard, mountains in our backyard.”

“Growing up in LA, exposed to the film (storytelling) industry,” Rose wrote in an email to the Journal, “it seemed normal to imagine anything, then tell a story and watch it come to life.”

Developing an interest in humanitarian work as a young man, he started catching rainwater on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in 1998 and installed his first catchment system in Kenya in 2004. His son, Jon - also a surfer - founded Waves For Water in 2009, and the Roses have continued to provide humanitarian aid all over the world ever since.

Rose first came to Pine Ridge in the summer of 2012. Waves For Water was invited by the White Plumes - a well-known and respected family in Lakota territory - to install a pair of rainwater storage and filtration systems, similar to the kinds the group has introduced to communities in Africa and South America.

“He never expects a thank you,” said Alex White Plume. “He just does it and leaves.”

Rose says he intends to eventually install rain catchers at each of the homes equipped with one of his pole structures.

Rose remembers his visit in 2012 when he first saw the trailers scattered across the far flung reaches of the reservation, baking in the summer heat, their sagging roofs worn to tatters by powerful winds and rain.

Some are known to house as many as 30 people at a time, and many leak so badly that their floors and ceilings have slowly rotted away.

“Off the reservation they’d be red-tagged, considered uninhabitable,” Rose said. “That was planted in my brain.”

That fall, Hurricane Sandy came crashing into the East Coast. It was while he and his team were helping rebuild homes amid the destruction in New Jersey that Rose’s thoughts drifted back to Pine Ridge and the idea for the pole structures came to him.

He sketched out a rough design and filed it away.

“There’s a saying in the nonprofit world,” Rose said. “‘Perfect is the enemy of good.’ There are no perfect solutions - but there are good ones.”

To kick-start the project, Waves For Water partnered with Armfield Construction out of Malibu, Calif., to serve as a consultant and secured $500,000 in funding from Beach Body, a health and fitness company also based in California.

He also formed partnerships within the reservation that were a key part of the project. It’s Rose’s way of “helping the helpers,” as he puts it.

The Lakota Prairie Ranch Resort in Kyle has served as the Waves For Water headquarters, with owner Rusty Puckett - who owns Medicine Root Development, a licensed contracting company - contributing heavily to the material and construction side of things.

Rose has been living in a cabin on Puckett’s land. He plans on displaying a variety of alternative affordable housing prototypes at the Lakota Prairie Ranch over the next year, including an A-frame structure designed and built with Puckett’s help.

“It would be pretty much impossible to do what we’re doing on the scale that we are without Rusty,” Rose said. “He’s, like, the best builder in the universe. To me he’s a shining star. His contribution is really invaluable to the project.”

On a recent weekend at the White Plume homestead, Alex White Plume looked on as a dust devil surged through the grass and peeled a layer of aluminum siding off an unprotected structure.

A similar wind howled over the hill a few weeks ago where his brother, Percy White Plume of the Horse Spirit Society, lives. If not for the pole structure that Rose helped install to protect his home, Percy said, “I think it would have torn the roof right off.”

Percy hopes to someday remove the trailer entirely and use the pole structure as the bones of a house.

For Harrison and LaDonna No Neck, the addition of the pole structure has been a money saver. Keeping their trailer heated with propane usually costs them around $500 a month. But with the pole structure providing insulation this past winter, the family’s bill was reduced by more than half.

“It’s been a big help,” Harrison said.

The house heats up “like a microwave” in the summer, he added, but the shade from the new metal roof has already proved effective at keeping the inside cool.

“It’s nice to have a dry house,” LaDonna said, remembering how rain used to leak into the trailer. “The roof is preventing all that.”

An added benefit to the pole structures, Rose said, is that if the No Necks ever want to get a new trailer, they can slide the replacement into the spot where the old one used to be.

“Think of the structure as a carport for a house,” Rose said.

The next phase of Rose’s project is to help repair the interiors of some of the homes where he’s already put up pole structures, and to install double-pane windows and insulated entry doors where necessary.

“The cost of building new homes is prohibitive,” Rose said, estimating the cost of a single unit to be around $150,000. “But fixing these up is affordable.”

This year, Rose hopes to double his funding and build at least 20 more pole structures. He’s already got a waiting list of a dozen families.

A single team of six people can put up a pole structure in a week, he said, so it should be quick work once he starts hiring more teams of workers and taking in volunteers.

When asked how long his group intends to continue working in Pine Ridge, Rose replied: “Pretty much forever. That’s how we are everywhere. We never leave.”

Rose sees his work in Pine Ridge as “a form of penance. Our current success was and is built on the graves of our predecessors. I think we are therefore obligated to help those who have suffered from the European invasion of North and South America.”

Jackie Ice keeps a reminder of that history inside her home: a brass button from a 7th Calvary uniform that she found in the dirt when she was a teenager.

She’s glad she doesn’t have to climb up on the roof anymore to slather hot tar onto the leaky spots. The work is difficult enough without having to struggle with her prosthetic leg. Repairing the trailer’s rotting roof is usually her husband Austin’s job, but he suffered from a nearly fatal accident last year when he was driving through Gordon, Neb., and swerved to avoid an oncoming vehicle. He’s only recently regained the ability to walk.

Sitting on the steps of the deck, Jackie began to cry. An independent woman who has worked for years in substance abuse counseling and now serves as a youth advocate in Pine Ridge, today she is one of the “helpers” on the reservation that Rose is working to lift up.

She says they don’t have any money, that she and Austin have to ask for rides or hitchhike to get around.

But the roof doesn’t leak anymore. And at night the two of them can sit out on their new deck and look up at the stars.

“It’s hard for me,” she says, “to ask for help.”


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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