Monday, January 14, 2013

Designing Shelters for the Homeless - HISA

A country that has a HISA center beside every town, village and city has neither homelessness nor hunger


It must be noted that HISA centers are visualized as completely voluntary facilities. They are neither prison camps nor concentration camps. People choose to live in one of their own free will and need and leave whenever they like. While at the center, they have freedom of movement from the center to nearby cities or any city for brief or long periods with the only condition that if they are absent for more than a certain number of days, say six, without permission, their allotment may be cancelled and they would have to seek fresh accommodation along with any other new applicants.  Any restriction or compulsion on movement of an inhabitant except children is a violation of fundamental human rights to life and liberty.

Homeless in this note does not imply those living in rented homes (unless high rents have pushed them to the street) but those that have no roof to sleep under. Providing small affordable homes helps those on rent etc. but not the truly homeless because most have been rendered helpless to look after their other human needs to survive.
"If a careful calculation is made of welfare, policing and other costs, it would be found that these cost more than a HISA center for the homeless. Therefore, HISA centers are a cost saving and humane measure while dramatically improving quality and security of life for all, the homeless as well as those with homes."
Designing shelters for the homeless

Second configuration containing a single bed in each dorm enclosure
Every country needs shelters to house persons who are homeless because of poverty, natural disasters, wars etc.  Most tragic is the condition of those who having been knocked to the street once due to unexpected adversity become so traumatized as to become incapable of recovering without help. In the present age of nations with large debts, a currency not tied to anything solid as gold, stressed banks, financial crisis, high divorce rates, huge legal and medical costs and rising inequalities (see here) such an unexpected adversity can really fall on anyone, God forbid, even those who regard themselves as secure now.

It is wise to show compassion for distressed homeless persons rather than thinking of them as criminals and vermin as some unfortunately tend to. One never knows when adversity may fall for brief or long periods in any life and if it does, a society that has a place where such a person can find some minimum shelter and recover rather than a street on which he or she may be traumatized for life is worth considering in any civilized and humane society. An addiction to drugs makes it worse. HISA centers as described in this note provide an opportunity for recovery for the able bodied while providing solace to the aged, education to children and rehabilitation for the addict.

In an emergency, school buildings are often used as temporary shelters where temporary beds are provided. However, cities and countries would do well to construct some permanent buildings on the outskirts of cities that may be used as shelters when required along with a daily bus pass to the city for able bodies residents to find full or part time work in the city. The centers may also incorporate counseling, addiction freedom and retraining units.

It appears that enough thought may not have been given yet to optimizing the design of such shelters. While individual private spaces may not be provided, since it may encourage some persons to make permanent homes in them, the other extreme of providing beds in large halls is just as poor. First of all, a hall is not the most efficient utilization of space from an engineering point of view and secondly a complete mayhem and disorder can ensue in such halls with complete lack of human dignity, privacy and security. This article presents an alternative design that is a compromise of the two extremes. The concept is shown in the illustration. The illustration shows a partitioned four bed enclosure that has beds as well as a closet each connected to an open common passage. Four such enclosures in a row consisting of a total of sixteen beds may be connected to a common washroom and toilet area containing around two toilets, two wash basins and two showers, two dressing rooms with mirrors each and a Laundry room. One might go further and think of bunker beds but that is beyond levels of reasonable comfort for a long term stay and would compromise recovery for those needing it. A second similar design is also shown, In the latter each dorm enclosure contains a single bed only along with a window and a closet. The overall cost and area occupied by the two designs is not very different.

A common drinking water tap as well as boiling water one (for a cup of tea, coffee, coco or soup) along with a wash basin may also be provided at the other end of each sixteen bed enclosure. It may be noted that each bed is adjacent to a three feet wide window for ventilation. This type of ventilation is not possible in large halls. Several such sixteen bed enclosures may then be constructed neck to neck in a row to house hundreds of persons requiring temporary or even long term shelters along with a common building containing a dining room that provides basic meals to the sheltered persons.

When shelters are divided in ten to sixteen bed units, it is possible to designate separate units for women with or without children as well as separate units for men for additional privacy. It would lead to temporary separation of couples but they would be able to meet in the common dining hall and adjoining parks. This post has been put out in this blog in the hope that next time an engineer is researching the design of shelters for the homeless he may find this post by a search on the internet and check out the present concept. The design was inspired by the design of sleeper train coaches.

When persons talk of providing a home to the homeless in abandoned buildings or low cost affordable housing they display an ignorance of the problem and the issues involved. Homeless persons are penniless and incapable of feeding themselves. Their condition in in some ways is no better than that of an infant child. That is how any human may become when subjected to severe distress, for whatever reason, and left to fend for himself or herself. Would one give an affordable house to an infant and leave him there even to starve? One may as well throw them into a well instead. Often the talk of affordable housing is a way for some from the middle classes living on rent to divert attention to their own issue rather than the issues of the truly homeless living and dying on the street.

Holistic Integrated Shelter for All (HISA)

An old couple meeting in a HISA park
If a country has integrated holistic shelters that can house all types of citizens in need from children to the aged, it can do away with a lot of other welfare programs and focus on this single type of facility. It goes without saying that such integrated centers would be more humane and natural because of a mixed population and far more economical because of shared facilities. Such complexes would need schools within it for children with some residential facility for orphans or those separated from parents. Boys between the ages of thirteen and sixteen may also be housed in the student residence since neither the women unit nor the men unit is the best place to house them. HISA would also need a medical care facility within the complex, along with drug de-addiction units, and common recreational areas as well as a few commercial shops and restaurants for those who can pay at times. A peer and supervisor review and rating systems of residents may also be put in place, since this is community living. Those who score high would get preference in choice of precise lodging within the complex and part time employment within it. Those who score low may be be moved by the supervisor to areas where they disturb others less. This lack of privacy would be the cost for availing this free facility.

HISA centers free the streets, parks and other public spaces of a country not just from those who have become homeless due to misfortune but also beggars, bums and addicts and thereby also make them safer and better places to live for all while taking care of the humanitarian needs of some. They also provide the country with a consolidated way to handle welfare requirements.

For aged persons over sixty living can be made more comfortable by pulling the opposite bed out of the enclosure in design and replacing with an arm chair and a small table with chair..As mentioned it would be necessary to separate units in two types- one for women and children and another for men within the same facility with common dining halls and parks where couples and children can meet. It must be mentioned that while providing shelters for the needy is a noble thing there is always the possibility of bums misusing the facility. The lack of privacy and separation of couples discourages this. A charge of fifty percent of income may be levied on those who have some income, say from a small pension or part time employment. Part time employment may be provided within the complex for carrying out its various activities. HISA residents may also seek work outside and indeed may be encouraged to do so that they make become self sufficient again and move to their own independent homes. Voluntary mixing of the aged and orphans may also be encouraged.  A person who arrives at a HISA center with lots of stuff would be asked to deposit his stuff in a central store (from where they may withdraw no more than once a month or at the time of leaving) and take in only a bag of a defined size ( around the size of baggage on a typical international flight) so that the common living units do not get crowded with things.

The name HISA has been given to such centers for easy reference. NGOs and others could be encouraged to assist in the activities of such centers. Since such centers are likely to become the focus of welfare in any country. Businesses may be encouraged to donate their surplus if any to these centers, even clothing and shoes as well as philanthropists and others may also donate here with the assurance that there contribution would be put to good use. The most compact type of facility with shared washrooms only has been suggested so that the creation of HISA centers is an affordable thing by any country in the world.

A society that does not care for its needy, distressed and vulnerable is not a humane society. It has neither sustainability nor a future. Those who mouth that such welfare is bad economic theory can perhaps be proved as fraudulent persons in one minute after they become homeless, as indeed anyone can in an instant, because their stand would immediately reverse proving that it was a a cheap lie from the start.

A HISA may be built on the outskirts of a city or besides a postmodern village in order to provide part or full time employment opportunities to the able bodied at a HISA center.  A postmodern village has numerous work opportunities on its farms, some seasonal and the two together would be an aid to improving the economy of a nation as a whole rather than be a drain on it.

It is a Quick Solution

HISA centers can be launched within two or three days once land is chosen for it on the outskirts of a town or city. The help of army camping units, disaster management teams or refugee agencies may be taken for it. They  begin as refugee camps set up by disaster management teams and are then converted in small incremental steps into permanent facilities. Homelessness is just as sudden as a flood or an earthquake but it strikes one by one and not an entire community in one go and is therefore less noticed as a disaster. Setting these up near every human city keeps the disaster management teams up and running for sudden emergencies.

While it may seem that it would take time to set up a HISA center it is not so. Once it has been decided in principle to set up one and land allocated for it, it can begin with a tented city right away. As housing barracks are set up, the initial residents can provide some of the labor and find part or full time work. It would be a labor that would cost only half as much since a condition of contract for staying in such a center is as explained that half the earning be deposited as charges for stay.


With the plan as outlined in this note, any city, state or country has no longer any excuse not to provide a shelter for the homeless. If they still do not, it can only be because they lack responsibility, human values and compassion, perhaps rationalized with a false economic theory or agenda that provides a superficial level of comfort to the upper layers of thought while suppressing a deep sense of fear, insecurity and guilt within. This fear is exposed when such persons make the utterly irrational demand of asking the homeless to leave the streets, cities and park without providing any other alternative than jumping into the ocean or committing suicide in some other way because where can they go if a shelter has not been created? The other alternative of putting them in prison or they getting there on their own, by robbing you or someone else, for free board and lodging, medical care besides in prison is far worse. It is far more expensive and detrimental to society.

NOTE: The author has spent considerable amount of time reflecting on the details of the issue. However, a blog post such as this one is not suitable for posting more details. Any agency if interested may contact the author for these details perhaps initially as a comment to this post. However, even with the outline as given here a small group of architects. disaster management people and social workers can easily work out all necessary details.

A HISA Complex

Sleeping man,  Jackie Martinez  and child eating images from wikimedia commons

Note has been substantially updated on August, 14, 2014

1 comment:

Ashok said...

I have added more in the first paragraph today explaining why it is necessary for everyone in the modern world to be compassionate towards the homeless because dear friends we cannot expect anything more from the Universe than we put into it.