Photo: Coalitionforthehomeless.org

Photo: Coalitionforthehomeless.org

I’m currently in New York City for a long weekend. The temperature today was a chilly 27 degrees Fahrenheit with a light snow. As I walk the snow-covered streets, I find myself worried about the prospects of the homeless population here finding warm shelter in such cold weather.

Heejae’s post last week about the homeless shelters in Los Angeles after the last round of El Niño storms left me wondering about how other cities like New York handle extreme weather and their local homeless population.

The Coalition for the Homeless is the nation’s oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless men, women and children.

The Coalition for the Homeless is the nation’s oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless men, women and children.

In times where the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or periods of extended winds or rain, the NYC Department of Homeless Services issues what is called a “Code Blue” which is a set of emergency procedures aimed at protecting homeless who are in danger due to the extreme weather. The department has outreach vans which respond to 311 service request calls from concerned citizens who feel a homeless person may be in danger. At the beginning of the year, New York Governor Cuomo signed a controversial executive order which requires all local governments to remove homeless people by force if necessary once the temperature drops below 32 degrees.

This executive order was met with mixed opinion, with some opposition questioning whether this violated an individual’s civil rights, alongside challenges about how the order would be implemented in light of data showing there are not enough beds to house the estimated homeless population in local cities. Also, as counterintuitive as it seems, the fact is some members of the homeless population feel safer on the streets than inside shelters. Although I feel this executive order has good intentions, I believe design can help play a part in improving how shelters/housing can provide homeless individuals a welcoming and safe place to stay

The Star Apartments owned by the Skid Row Housing Trust is on Maple and 6th Street in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Heidi de Marco/KHN).

The Star Apartments owned by the Skid Row Housing Trust is on Maple and 6th Street in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Heidi de Marco/KHN).

The Skid Row Housing Trust of Los Angeles works with local architecture firms such as Michael Maltzan, Killefer Flammang Architects, Koning Eizenberg Architecture, and Brooks + Scarpa to design apartments for individuals who were formerly living on the streets. The design of these buildings and programming offers medical clinics, onsite counselors, community rooms, community farming and roof gardens, and courtyards that help support outdoor spaces for community activities.

“How do we design buildings that create the best environment for people to live in and recover from the effects of homelessness and other disabilities? We are always trying to mitigate some of the ill effects of homelessness by bringing in good design, ample light and generous landscaping,” remarked Mike Alvidrez, Executive Director for Skid Row Housing Trust.

Developments like Michael Maltzan Architecture's New Carver Apartments proves housing for the homeless can be an opportunity for inspiring architecture.

Developments like Michael Maltzan Architecture’s New Carver Apartments proves housing for the homeless can be an opportunity for inspiring architecture.

As designers I feel there is a shift in the design of shelters and housing for the homeless, a perceptible belief that these buildings can be just be as appealing as the numerous new pricier housing complexes being constructed in Downtown Los Angeles. Perhaps, there are small things can be done, such as rethinking the use of intermediate armrests on benches which are used to prevent individuals from sleeping at bus shelters, public plazas, and parks. Or whether design solutions can help create a park where both homeless individuals and neighborhood residents can coincide together as a community space instead of keeping them separated.

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