There is a lot more to do with breaking the cycle of homelessness than housing – but it’s a good start.
It probably seems like stating the obvious that, as an organisation working to break the cycle of homelessness, housing is an issue that is close to us.
There is of course, as we’ve said, a lot more to do with homelessness than housing. Actually, ‘How did we get here ?’ by BBC2 sums up the complex and growing issue which incorporates a lack of affordable housing, an aging population, increased living costs and so much more in just over two minutes.
We do our bit by providing meaningful employment for people who have been homeless and are now ready for work. And part of being ready for work includes access to stable accommodation. We’ve thought a lot about this over the years, here’s a taster here’s some of our ideas around housing and the role of architecture:
– What if Architects and Employers teamed up to tackle the issue?
This harks back to the old the Victorian philanthropist idea of Model Villages – or Industrialists’ Workers’ Housing – where employers would build houses to accommodate their employees. The movement emerged because of a dire need, one that government couldn’t keep up with and we think the same could be said of today. Currently, the role employers are asked to play is around supporting everything else to do with accessibility apart from designing and building homes. Employer support such as low or no interest loans for tenancy deposits and travel costs should continue to be encouraged, it helps, but it’s still skirting around an issue which needs to be addressed head on. Granted – the concept would need to be hugely overhauled. Philanthropic housing had many problems and not actually housing society’s poorest was one of them. But couldn’t businesses and architects join up to revisit and rethink it for the modern age? According to a Grant Thornton study “One third of firms in London believe that a lack of affordable housing local to their place of work is affecting employee productivity.” So something like this could not only address the housing short-fall and social integration, but boost the economy too. A small social enterprise called Social Bite in Scotland is trying this out at the moment. The sandwich shop which donates all of its profits to charity is building Edinburgh’s first ‘homeless village’ – not a great name, but at least it’s a “full-circle approach” to tackling homelessness with housing. And more importantly, it’s a brave move. So often the social enterprise sector demonstrates what is really possible – we hope it inspires businesses with more resources behind them to take some action too.
– What if hostels for homeless people had to be designed with progression in mind?
There’s been some impressive success stories of designers and architects creating or re-purposing care environments – hospitals and homes for the elderly – for better patient wellbeing. When done well it’s even been shown to positively affect recovery, and therefore reduce costs at the same time. Check out the Design Council website, there’s lots of examples hosted there. The same approach needs to be considered the standard when it comes to temporary housing for people making their way out of homelessness if it is to actually enhance transition. In a lot of cases, these individuals are likely to be dealing with emotional, psychological or substance abuse issues. The fact that they require an environment that is conducive to health is not a new concept but it’s challenging to find success stories in terms of design. Barriers to success from the third sector include lack of resources and expertise – this is where architects could step-up by raising standards and collaborating with health and homelessness professionals. And those commissioning them need to be more demanding too, not settle for less.
We’re not experts on housing and we would never profess to be. We’d be terrible architects – but we’re great running a crewing company and tackling complex societal issues as part of our day-to-day business. We’ve had to be very courageous over the years to make it work. Edwin Heathcote was right when he called out architects for failing to address the housing crisis – we need to see a whole lot more vision, bravery and creativity than is currently being demonstrated. But it’s not just architects who need to face up to it – it’s everyone.