Utah has decreased its homeless population by 74% over the last eight years, and is on track to completely eliminate the problem by 2015. At a time when other states have seen their homeless populations skyrocket, this is a remarkable achievement. Even more remarkable, Utah's winning strategy is almost stunning in its simplicity: Give the homeless houses.
That solution, while radical when it comes to the US, is actually in line with the official position of the European Union, as well as with the findings of the 2009 "Homes not Handcuffs" report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless. Furthermore, giving people homes can save governments and taxpayers money by reducing costs for health and justice services, such as EMS calls and jail stays.
Sun Metro Apartments in Salt Lake City, part of Utah's Housing First program. Image courtesy http://voicesofutah.wordpress.com/
Utah is the first state to adopt this solution, but if other states begin addressing homelessness directly and efficiently by providing permanent, supportive housing, what can architecture do to respond?
Today, most design for the homeless is centered around "parasitic," tactical interventions that merely enhance the condition of being homeless. Take Cardborigami, a flimsy origami-inspired pop-up structure, or Excescent Utopia, temporary boxes hanging off the sides of lamp posts. At worst, these are insulting stop-gaps that would likely be confiscated if used. While they are often made of temporary materials (as though homelessness were somehow magically temporary), these shelters paradoxically act with the force of concrete to cement the homeless into their transient, "parasitic" existence.
In light of Utah boldly stepping beyond the weak "social design" or public-private approaches, it is interesting to imagine the ways other governments will use architecture to combat homelessness. Here are 12 projects that could serve as models for future government-led projects that fight homelessness.
Image courtesy Intershelter
Developed by a private company, these domes are used in extreme environments for encampments and have a life expectancy of more than 30 years. Municipalities could buy them in bulk to create cheap, permanent housing villages.
Image courtesy archibaseplanet.com
These capsules offer a compact solution, and were originally designed as small luxury hotel rooms.
Completed in 2004, Sperr17 is one of Vienna's successful public housing complexes and represents a smaller-scale project that is more common today. Though it is a partially government-sponsored development, it shows that subsidized housing for the homeless can still have aesthetic qualities.
Louis Blanc is another smaller-scale public housing complex and is raised up on pilotis, allowing car access underneath the residential block.
This government-led residential complex is designed to allow tenants to buy units and add on to them later.
Transitional homeless shelters often have architectural qualities beyond the minimum requirements. The vertical aluminum elements on the facade is an elegant security measure.
Managed by a nonprofit, this 106-unit building contains highly efficient 300-square foot studio apartments that provide permanent housing with on-site mental and physical health services for chronically homeless people.
A speculative project, Hopetel attempts to minimize its impact through a reduced footprint and a vertical stack of individual units. Each small, private room is designed with the profile of a house, while public shared amenities such as showers, kitchen and laundry facilities, are distributed throughout.
Another nonprofit transitional housing project, the Lansdowne Mews's 11 units are arranged around a central core. The building is clad in brick and features oak balconies with integrated planters.
Image courtesy www.designmena.com
A classic British council estate that has been unfortunately refurbished into luxury housing.
Image courtesy panaramio user Illés Zoltán
Alt Erlaa is one of the best examples of Viennese affordable living, and has held up well over the years.
Image via Wikipedia
Karl-Marx-hof was completed in 1930 as part of "Red Vienna," one of the earliest modernist attempts at providing housing for all. The structure survived heavy bombing during World War II and is one of the longest residential buildings in the world.