Design Resources for Homelessness is a collective of guidelines and recommendations for “architects, interior designers, organizations renovating or constructing new environments, researchers, teachers and students.” This is a very pertinent and interesting website that builds upon MarginL’s mission which is ultimately to provide a similar prescriptive resource for addressing the landscapes of homelessness. Design Resources for Homelessness offers an extensive database for designers so there is detailed information and analysis for all designers but it also reveals the gap in landscape architecture’s role in addressing homelessness with our set of skills, a gap we are seeking to fill. This aside, the website includes design guidelines for addressing homelessness and recovery, a resource of notable projects and people, in-depth case study analysis, and more, all contributing layers of pertinent information for future designs attempting to address homelessness. The projects and people section has some of the same projects we have highlighted in previous posts for landscape precedent studies such as Skid Row Housing Trust. This is an exciting forum that furthers the dialogue of how design can tackle social issues such homelessness and make an impact beyond the physical realm.
Peter Barber Architects created a 51 room homeless shelter in London, basing their design off of 10th century poorhouses, reimagining the standard homeless services in an artful way. The individual housing units, counseling areas, and educational facilities are all organized around a garden in the center of the small complex. The garden is serve as a place where residents can grow food, planting fruit trees and vegetables, as well as providing a welcoming space in which to receive supportive services. This provides yet another example of a design focused on improving the lives of those experiencing homeless by addressing not only shelter but also landscape.
After winning the AIA/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing Design in 2016, the 91 room apartment building designed by David Baker Architects proves to be an excellent addition to the new face of housing first initiatives in California. The Oakland apartment building houses low income residents, many pushed out by rising rent prices, as well as formerly homeless seniors. The compelling modern design is enhanced by a thoughtful and developed landscape plan that involves multiple courtyards and a large garden plot on the second floor of the building that is maintained by residents. The multiple sunny courtyards are used strategically to create a natural, communal environment.
As winter bares down on some of the larger metropolitan areas, this article explores the morality of some of the laws that leave the homeless stranded in crippling temperatures. At the center of the debate is the law imposed by many cities banning “urban camping” and recent videos that have surfaced showing police issuing citations to residents of an encampment in Denver. This brings to light the “civic soul-searching” that cities must partake in as activists continue to push for the right to rest as a civil right for the homeless. Portland saw its progressive homeless law that allowed tent camping and sidewalk sleeping revoked this month after a sea of complaints flooded the mayor’s office. Though initially unsuccessful, Portland represents a progressive city attempting to address homelessness and its policies would surely be deemed more successful if there were designed spaces integrated into the landscape that could serve as a public space and a refuge for area homeless. If this were the case, would right to rest and urban camping be seamlessly and effectively added to the urban fabric.
Here, an east coast example of the housing first initiative is highlighted, the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence, which mirrors examples of buildings a part of the Skid Row Housing Trust, with its modern design and intentional focus on quality of housing. This landmark project for Washington D.C, focuses on addressing the local homeless veterans, providing 60 one room apartments for veterans and 64 more affordable and low-income housing units. Buildings like this one and many other housing first projects often do not incorporate a vision for the landscape, be that for budget reasons or lack of consideration but it is worth noting that community in these dwellings is important. Community is fostered through shared space and connection which builds trust and creates security. Many projects may lack space required for such amenities as large plazas but as seen in some of the thoughtful designs of Michael Maltzan in the Skid Row Housing Trust buildings, rooftop gardens give residents a natural place of repose and connection to place. Guidelines for such landscape considerations could be adopted for housing first projects if the significance of the landscape, be it large or small, was understood to be of importance. Regardless, this new project represents a hopeful trend on the other side of the country, rethinking the way homelessness is addressed.
It would seem there is no better time than now to acknowledge the important role that landscape plays in the lives of urban environments, especially in the lives of those without shelter. 2016, witnessed a profound step in public acceptance of the issue of homelessness and the unmistakable effect it is having on American cities. In November, voters in L.A., San Francisco, and Portland approved measures to raise millions of dollars for affordable and permanent housing (Swann, 2016) . This represents a radical change in the fight against homelessness, which for decades has been dealt with through shortsighted shelter and voucher programs that lead to a cycle of dependence and fail to address the fundamental issue of homelessness: shelter. In L.A., a 1.2 billion dollar bond, which takes a cut from property taxes, will construct 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing with supportive facilities over the next decade (Swann, 2016). L.A., recently was reported having the highest number of chronically homeless for the second year in a row. Seattle also experienced a rise in homelessness and has recently adopted a new plan to end homelessness called Pathways, which is rooted in housing first efforts. As the homeless epidemic becomes more unavoidable and the public begins to rally behind programs to alleviate the issue, it is worth contemplating the role that landscape will play in the reclamation and healing of the current and formerly homeless. If the housing first methodology is adopted in full force on the West Coast, how can the landscape serve to link these housing structures in such a way that encourages the formerly homeless into fulfilling lives. We know that homeless persons interact with the landscape in a profoundly more intimate way than most other people, because it is currently or has been their home for some period of time. An integral part of healing these lives will be in addressing the landscapes these people once occupied.