We spend billions of dollars each year on homeless solutions, yet feel like we are losing ground?
We believe that unsheltered people, living-on-the-street, are the face of homelessness. They have the biggest impact on society, and they resist the existing homeless solutions. Yet they are in relative terms a very small group of people.
In the United States there are about 200,000 people counted as unsheltered homeless. That is less than 0.01% of the US population, and about 1/3 of these may be living in vehicles not on sidewalks. In Oakland CA for 2022, there are 3337 unsheltered homeless or less than 1% of the Oakland Population. With billions of dollars spent annually on homelessness, why does this small group persist, grow, and have such a high social impact?
The Traditional Process:
- Street outreach by social service organization to encourage use of shelters, and / or addiction and mental health assistance.
- In some places, movement of the individual to a managed tent camp, pallet shelter, or tiny home site instead of a traditional shelter.
- Within the shelter (or managed camp) environment, case work to assist individual in addiction / mental health treatment, and to obtain a more permanent residency, either permanent supportive housing or standard low cost housing.
Standard Homeless Solutions aim to transition people from homeless tent camps to “normal” residential environments in apartment buildings, hotels, or group homes. This works for people for whom the issue is paying the rent. But what about the other factors that hinder the homeless from leading “normal” lives.
What is Missing in Traditional Homeless Solutions?
The above is a process the individual enters and from that point of entry has limited control over the process or its timing. We were given some perspective by a veteran in the homelessness space in a large city.
"If there were 1000 unsheltered homeless living on the street, and they were placed in one of the 10,000 of available empty apartments in the city, it is likely that within a few weeks or months, those same 1000 people would be back on the street. Even with all of the great work done by social service agencies working with the homeless, this would still be the case."
We believe that the person living homeless on the street, despite all the challenges that life has brought them, value Autonomy more than a roof over their head.
In “The Art and Science of Personality Development”, Dan P. McAdams (2015) describes the critical nature of Autonomy
As I read self-determination theory, the need for autonomy lies at the heart of motivated agency. If your need for autonomy is squelched, you feel that you have lost control of your own motivations. Gone is any semblance of free will or self-efficacy. When the need for autonomy is squelched, you lose the power of autonomous choice and decision making, and you feel that forces beyond your control – forces external to the self – ultimately determine your behavior. You feel like a dispensable pawn in a game of chess. You feel helpless. .. Experiencing some rudimentary satisfaction of the need for autonomy is essential for agentic striving – striving for anything, be it competence, relatedness, or becoming President of the United States.
The Start of Urban Camp: Simple, Clean, Safe and Autonomous Living for the Unsheltered Homeless
"Outside our far west loop office there is a group of people who live at times under viaducts and act as rapid recyclers of anything not tied down. They collect wooden pallets from the meat packing businesses and scrap metal from workshops and factories.
We put out some scrap metal pieces today and sure enough. That thing probably weighs 150 lbs and is worth maybe $7 to the man. Third World Chicago.
You see this every day, in this area as these guys are ambitious. Maybe someone really smart will explain this to me. In the mean time I will admire the human spirit."
That is our view of the living-on-the-street homeless: independent, tough, resourceful, more than their share of troubles, and not asking a lot from society.
Via Urban Camp: The Journey from Homelessness
We design Urban Camp as an intervention in the life of a homeless person living on the street. It’s a place to stop the dangerous path of life that the homeless walk, and turn toward a better way.
We know that the needs of the homeless go well beyond the realm of a physical dwelling. But we think that Urban Camp is a safe place where people can start the path to re-build their lives. Here is how we would describe the re-building path:
Step1: Control Your Space: Living on the street in a tent camp is living in an environment with near-zero personal control, and limited opportunities for change. The first step is to get a sense of control as a start to think through the options.
Step 2: Self-Care: The basics include sleeping eating, bathing, toilet, and keeping personal items safe. Taking care of yourself builds the feeling of value as a person and being of value to other people. And daily tasks like cooking and cleaning your home build work habits and skills
Step 3: Safety Net: With a stable living address, a person can start to build a safety net of public social benefits. This can help satisfy the daily needs for income, food, health, and housing support.
Step 4: Purpose: For the formerly homeless who can work, employment can start with casual day labor, and build to full time employment. For those who cannot get a job, there may be local opportunities to volunteer. And there is always the opportunity to maintain the local community and be a friend and neighbor.
Step 5: Engagement and Support: Where many homeless people are shunned, people on the re-bound are engaged and even embraced by the people around them. We all draw our best most effective support from our friends and neighbors – no different are the formerly homeless.
Step 6: Fulfillment: People build a sense of fulfillment through human relationships. It may be friendship, co-workers, companionship, marital, siblings, parents, or spiritual. It’s a strength to take people successfully through the ups and downs of life.
An Architecture for the Homeless
The Urban Camp living environment addresses the homeless persons needs beyond simple shelter. It is designed to foster human interaction, belonging, and small community support. It does this by conforming to a set human focused architectural principles.
1. Build in Small Clusters of Homes: Form clusters of individual homes in 10-12 unit groupings. Build larger developments as adjacent clusters
2. The Simple Personal Environment: Design the smallest possible code compliant dwelling for an individual or couple or small family.
3. A Mix of Households: Maintain a mix of households as individuals / couple, old / young, to match existing tent camp population diversity.
4. Build Density with Human Scale: Build housing density smartly to maximize meaningful human contact.
5. Maintain the Community: It’s OK to have a Group or Neighborhood of the formerly Homeless without intentionally dispersing people into the “normal” residential environments.
6. Design for Boundaries from Existing Communities: Locate Housing Clusters at the Margins, but with existing physical boundaries to foster acceptance from adjacent communities.
7. Define the Boundary Like a Human Cell, Open but Restrictive: Access to the neighborhood is open to the street, but restricted with definitive boundaries and limited paths leading into the neighborhood (however including clear paths for emergency and service vehicles).
Lets design a new homelessness solution, with better results by providing a higher level of autonomy for the individual in a living space suitable to human habitation. Lets make a healing and effective solution. Lets design Urban Camp.
- Code Compliant: Lets meet the basic social understanding of what is suitable and safe for human habitation. Lets meet all of the requirements of the building code for safety. And the minimum definition of a dwelling: 70 SF of Habitable Space with Permanent Provisions for Living, Sleeping, Eating, and Sanitation.
- Build Small for 1 Plus with Individual Responsible Control: Over 70% of the unsheltered homeless are single males. Single females and young adults are next. Women with families have much better outcomes in traditional homeless solutions. Build for single occupancy but allow for a companion or pet. Learn More about this in our Whitepaper: The SRO Created Anew.
- Build Tough and Secure to allow for Open to Marginal Urban Environment. Avoid the perception and cost of a secure guarded compound. The environment is tough urban, nearby but not within traditional neighborhoods. Tough interior as well but avoiding institutional or corrections fixtures or furnishings.
- Build in Small Clusters of Units for Social Support and Social Responsibility. On the street, people live in clusters for security and social needs. Living amongst others means living within basic rules. Small clusters optimize the utility infrastructure, and the partial occupancy during full buildout of a site.
- Allow for an Address with Longer Term and Multi-Year Tenancy. Encourage social services support but without the expectation of quick fixes. Encourage self-support amongst neighbors. An address allows for application and receipt of social safety net benefits.
- Urban Camp will not Feed You, Clean your Space, or Wash your Clothes. Individuals build competency and agency in everyday tasks, and site operating costs are a fraction of managed compounds.
The Basic Building Block
The 10 Home Cluster
The Neighborhood of Clusters
What is the Cost of Urban Camp?
The initial Capital Cost of Urban Camp is about $100,000 per unit including site improvements and utility infrastructure. You can see from the graphic below where that stands with other types of building.
Urban Camp Operating Costs are much Lower than other Options:
One of the common complaints of community efforts to solve homelessness is the high cost of the proposed solutions. The key to minimizing these costs is to enable the homeless person to continue living independently. In a shelter environment or a transitional housing site, the community takes an expensive full charge of supporting the individual including food, medical, and security usually with dedicated personnel.
Here is how Urban Camp avoids most of those high costs:
- Long Term Housing: Urban Camp can be a home permanently or for several years while the person heals and then moves up to a standard apartment or home. Shelters and transition / processing facilities are expensive to build and operate.
- Code Compliant Homes: The homes are safe and comply with building codes, so there is no special supervision of less safe / non-compliant tents or containers.
- Open to Surrounding Community: Each home is secured against theft and the buildings exterior materials, doors, and windows are built for a tough urban environment. The expense of fenced facilities and full time security personnel is avoided.
- An Environment for Healing: The architecture of Urban Camp is designed for personal self-healing. Of course specialized medical and social work is required. But it should be greatly reduced compared to a communal facility.
- Access for Emergency Services: The Urban Camp site allows for access by police, fire, and emergency medical personnel and vehicles. The existing resources of the community are used, and no special full time personnel are required for these functions.
- Self-Care Environment: The Urban Camp Home is designed to be occupied and cleaned by the occupant. The units have full bath and kitchen functions. The expense of facility cleaning and operating a kitchen is avoided. Also self-care is a healing process.
Download the Cost Guide
How to Buy the Urban Camp Homeless Solution
Urban Camp Products: Urban Camp homes are designed to be purchased in clusters of 10 or more homes with a utility building serving each cluster. Urban Camp includes technical services for site layouts, utility systems, permit assistance, installation assistance, startup, and technical maintenance services.
Local Service Organization (“Organization”): Our products and systems are provided through an established local service organization, selected by the sponsoring agency, who contracts with the sponsoring agency to provide an Urban Camp Solution. The local service organization provides onboarding and other services critical to the success of the project, in addition to the Urban Camp products and systems.
Sponsoring Agency RFP: The sponsoring agency issues a Request for Proposal to local service organizations. The RFP would include responsibilities for onboarding and other tenant services. And it would include a Specification for Urban Camp products, systems, and implementation.