Archive for the ‘homeless’ Tag

SpotUS: The Homeless Triangle: San Francisco, Los Angeles and Prison

Spot.Us is a group that helps independent journalists raise money for investigative stories. Here’s one that caught my eye: A practicing internist physician named R. Jan Gurley wants to take a close look at what happens after a person leaves prison, say, after two years behind bars, with only 200 bucks in their pocket. Her idea is to investigate the notion of “homeless churn,” the unfortunate social phenomenon that might occur when people are released from prison without the social tools or resources to make it on the outside.

There are tens of thousands of prisoners released annually to the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Where do they end up, and how many of them end up back in prison? Ms. Gurley intends to find out. If you would like to help fund her effort to raise the $1200 needed to research and write the story, you can donate as little as $5 or as much as you want. You can also answer a survey at the Spot.Us site and provide credits toward the funding of her investigation.

R. Jan Gurley is a physician who sees patients in a homeless clinic for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Her writing has appeared in Slate, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday magazine and the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Upward Bound House Family Shelter

Written by Lee Schneider, director of SHELTER

Image courtesy Vanos Architects

The power was off during the grand opening of Upward Bound House’s new Family Shelter, but there was a lot of daylight in the eighteen brand-new rooms. And, as though to compensate for the lack of electricity, while on a walk-through to meet the designers of each room, a visitor could feel the buzzing energy of community and of creativity.

The idea for Family Shelter was simple enough. Upward Bound House, a Santa Monica-based agency, is experienced in providing transitional housing for homeless families with children. They have a 21-unit facility in Santa Monica that helps homeless families get back on their feet. The families can stay there for as long as a year. The success rate for those families later obtaining and keeping permanent housing? Ninety-five percent, according to Upward Bound’s numbers.

Sounds good. But could you achieve similar success over a 90-day period instead of a year? Upward Bound has “beta tested” that idea already, by giving families in need of housing special vouchers to live in motels for 90 days until they get their lives together. Living in motels, though, doesn’t always address a family’s need for counseling and support. Upward Bound specializes in supported housing – you get a roof over your head, but you also get case workers checking in on you to see if you’re stable and thriving. The motel plan was a good beta test but it wasn’t the perfect path to a comprehensive plan to address family needs. There had to be a better way.

Well, why not buy a motel, redesign it from the outside in and start a new Family Shelter in Culver City? That’s exactly what Upward Bound did. The Family Shelter grand opening happened last month and attracted a crowd of social activists and politicos and some of LA’s best-known designers. Take a look at this short video to hear the designers speak about the experience in their own words. Each of the eighteen rooms was designed by a different designer with a singular vision.

The event was inspiring, but now it’s down to business, finishing up the exterior of the building, and settling the eighteen families into Family Shelter for the first 90-day cycle. Upward Bound has a screening process to pick the right families. “We work with partner agencies, like Beyond Shelter and St. Joseph Center. Case managers with those organizations know about Upward Bound and they refer people to us,” says David Snow, executive director of Upward Bound House. After the initial referrals, Upward Bound does another level of candidate screening to insure a good fit. To get into Family Shelter you have to have a job and be free of substance abuse issues or receiving counseling.

“The people we serve have the fundamentals. They need a safe place where they can recover. These are families with kids. They are not looking for a hand out. They want their own home. That’s who we serve best.”
— David Snow, Upward Bound House

Children, as David Snow has found with Upward Bound, can be the innocent victims of misfortune or bad decisions made by their parents. “For us it’s about kids. We are geared toward the kids in family dynamics. We offer parenting management and anger management to help with kids going through crisis. We offer tutoring and mentoring, arts programs and enrichment programs. Not many programs out there focus on kids.”

Focusing on kids makes economic sense. Truancy, public health services and incarceration can make for a big bill for all to pay. Catch problems early, it’s a good deal for society. “Wait until later, and you’ve got bigger problems,” says Snow.

Snow sees an opportunity for Upward Bound to provide more emergency and transitional services. These services, he says, are the missing link to families receiving permanent housing. He’s looking at partnering Upward Bound with developers or buying existing facilities to get that going. Upward Bound should find a welcome reception – its facilities look like high-end town homes or apartments.

The grand opening of Upward Bound’s Family Shelter received good coverage in inhabitat and the Los Angeles Times L.A. at Home blog. You can follow along on new developments on the Turquoise blog.

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When World Shelters and The Turning Point Foundation teamed up last September to revitalize the River Haven community we were there to capture the moment.  Several hundred volunteers came together to build nineteen structures.  Here’s a look at that happened on the build day.  The clip is longer than those we’ve shown elsewhere, and at the end there’s a link to the Vimeo website, where it can be seen in HD.  Let us know what you think!

…I turned a corner

Here is a guest post from a contributor in the UK who publishes her blog under the name WanderingScribe. She has described her situation this way:

For the past five months I have been living alone in a car at the edge of the woods — jobless and homeless and totally unable to find a way out. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t scream loudly enough, alI I can do is write. So here I am laying down tracks…hopefully the start of an online paper trail out of here.

At the time she wrote that she listed her interests as:

  • Hot food
  • mugs of steaming tea
  • warmer weather
  • feather mattresses
  • curtains to shut the world out. Getting out of this laneway…

In time, though, her blog was ‘discovered’ and, as she writes, “I eventually got a publishing deal and made it out of my car to write a book about it… Miracles do happen.” Her book is titled Abandoned and can be purchased at Doubleday and Amazon.

Here’s one of her posts.

Written by WanderingScribe

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Today it was the smell of lilacs that got me. I turned a corner, on a road I’d never walked down before, quite close to home, and bang… There I was a child of seven or eight again, dragging her feet on the way to the big houses under the railway bridge, where on some Sunday mornings, a tiny lady who lived in one of them sold us rhubarb, and bunches of mint for potatoes. Delicious smells…but before we got to them, we walked with our huge bundles of rhubarb along a crescent-shaped road that was full of (what I now know to be) lilacs, and the smell cleared everything else from your mind. For a while, everything…One of the saving graces of childhood. To this day I love lilac – the colour, the smell, the look of them…and of course the way they make my mouth water for rhubarb crumble.

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Housing Fresno’s Homeless: A tale of lawsuits, lost identity and innovation


Photo by Jeff Pflueger

Written by Jeff Pflueger

Fresno, California

The city of Fresno, California is struggling under enormous pressures due to poverty.

A 2006 Brookings Institution report, using 2000 census data, ranks Fresno as having the 4th highest poverty rate in the nation – at 26.2%. But Fresno ranks 1st on a perhaps more important figure; with a 43.5% concentrated poverty rate, or the percentage of poor individuals in high-poverty neighborhoods, Fresno’s poor are geographically concentrated like nowhere else in the nation.

By city estimates, roughly one in a hundred people in Fresno, California are homeless. According to some homeless advocates the number is much higher; if the homeless also includes the people who are “displaced,” i.e. without a home, but living temporarily in some form of shelter like a motel room, the number could be as high as 1 in 20.

Across the city homeless encampments have swelled into villages. Each has is name like “The Hill,” “New Jack City,” and “F Street.”

They are comprised mostly of camping tents packed closely together. Sleeping bags, blankets and tarps are often draped over the tents to provide additional insulation and weather proofing. Some homes within the encampments are shanties made of freely available materials such as pallets, plywood and blankets.

Fresno, Cal Trans and the Fresno Police addressed the homeless situation by conducting coordinated “sweeps” of the encampments. After police ordered residents to leave, bulldozers scooped up entire settlements and literally threw them away. People were stripped of everything that they owned – and literally their identity – as birth certificates, identification, family photos, along with their meager possessions were heaped into bins destined for the landfill.

In October of 2006, a Federal Judge issued a temporary restraining order to stop the city from its illegal sweeps. Soon after, the homeless of Fresno won a rare victory: a $2.35 million dollar class action lawsuit against the city of Fresno and Cal Trans. Funds from the lawsuit went to the individuals whose possessions were destroyed in the illegal sweeps, as well as into an account to provide housing and medical care for the individuals in the class.


Photo by Jeff Pflueger

Since the settlement, the city of Fresno has changed its behavior. Fresno now pays consenting motels $65 a night to house a homeless person. After the voucher period is over, the people are most often back on the streets. Many of these hotels are dangerously run down. Recently, the city of Fresno closed the “StoryLand Inn,” one of the voucher motels, evicting as many as 100 residents for building code violations regarding mold, broken windows, and bad plumbing.

Fresno also began housing homeless people in tool sheds.

In October 2009, Fresno dismantled the “H Street” camp and relocated the estimated 150 residents at a cost of $700,000. Many of H Street residents were moved into “The Village of Hope”, a settlement made of dozens of plywood tool sheds packed into two fenced lots. Residents live two to a shed, without electricity, water, or insulation. Nobody can be in a shed between the hours of 8am to 5pm.

As bleak and violent as the homeless situation has become in Fresno, Fresno is a city desperately in need of creative solutions. Local architect Art Dyson believes that he can help.

After Dyson received a Masters of Architecture, he served his architectural apprenticeships with Frank Lloyd Wright, Bruce Goff, and William Gray Purcell. His work has received over 150 local, state, national, and international design awards and he is featured in more than 400 publications and in over two dozen books.

If anything, Dyson’s work is integrative, drawing upon many traditions and ideas. His approach to helping the homeless situation is perhaps the most integrative of all – and the most visionary.

“All marvels of history would have been history without bold decisions,” Dyson writes in the proposal for his project to help the homeless situation.

Dyson is creating a visionary program through Fresno Pacific University. The program is interdisciplinary, integrating sociology, anthropology, planning, architecture, and revolutionary ideas from sustainable building to create “Eco Villages” to house the homeless. The students in the program will design and ultimately build the villages with the assistance of volunteers and the homeless themselves.

Each village will be limited to 20 residents. Small private shelters, built from reused and sustainable materials, will be arranged around common community space and centered on a small scale local economy such as the production of bamboo, and crafts created from bamboo.


Photo by Jeff Pflueger

Due to the recent housing collapse, land is cheap in Fresno, and the villages themselves can be built for next to nothing claims Dyson, since the materials will be either reused or donated.

Dyson dreams that the villages will be easily replicable, making their work in Fresno a model for how cities around the globe can help people without homes.

As ambitious and technical his plans are, Dyson’s vision is rooted in a deeper passion about engaging and connecting people experientially through the process of the project. Dyson writes in his proposal, “The program will help cultivate a culture of mutual acceptance and respect, solidarity and compassion, open communication and cross-cultural outreach by example. The program will serve as a catalyst to produce the highest aspirations of humanity into a practical reality.”

The program has already started. Al Williams and Cynthia Green, two of the homeless people named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Fresno for the sweeps of the encampments, were able to collectively invest $16,000 to purchase a home that will become the Pamela Kincaid Neighborhood Center.

Art Dyson and some other investors also chipped in to purchase the $28,000 dollar home that sits on 1/3 of an acre. The center is to be a place to help the homeless.

Dyson already has plans drawn for the development of the center and is actively looking for land now to allow his students and the Fresno community to build the first of the Eco Villages in Fresno.


Jeff Pflueger is a San Francisco based photographer with work published in the New York Times, National Geographic Adventure and other publications. This piece is from Jeff’s personal project about poverty in California. Read more about the project at

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River Haven and U-Domes

Written by Lee Schneider

Is it possible to construct a village of new homes in a day, providing much needed housing for the homeless in Ventura County, California?  The answer is yes if you have a few hundred volunteers, two battalions of Navy Sea-Bees,  an innovative design for geodesic domes and some vision.

buckyHandThe innovative dome design comes from an American original named R. Buckminster Fuller.  The vision comes from Bruce LeBel of World Shelters and Clyde Reynolds of the Turning Point Foundation.  Clyde, the foundation’s executive director, heads up a program serving more than 500 clients in Ventura County each year through its shelter rehabilitation programs. Clyde hired Bruce’s company, World Shelters, to do something amazing: create housing for the homeless in just one day. Bruce, once a student of Buckminster Fuller, was ready for the challenge.  Why?  Not only did Buckminster Fuller advance the concept of a dome as a multi-use building, but Fuller also believed in a passionate and committed form of architecture that would help citizens of Earth survive and prosper.  He saw his life as an experiment into “what, if anything,” an individual could do “on behalf of all humanity.”

“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known.  Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option to become enduringly successful.”
– R. Buckminster Fuller, 1980

Bucky, as he was known, inspired Bruce LeBel to use the dome design to provide emergency housing all over the world.  We’re making a film about pre-fab architecture for the very poor and the very rich called SHELTER.  One of Bruce’s projects we’re following happened over the weekend, at an encampment for the homeless called River Haven, in Ventura.  Winter is coming, and that means heavy rains and some heavy weather.  The homeless people who lived here were camped in tents that were showing their age over the four years this settlement has been in existence. Domes would provide warmth, strength, and security.

The domes at River Haven, called U-Domes, are the result of years of research at World Shelters. Bruce was once an engineer at The North Face, the outdoor equipment company whose tents utilized Fuller’s principle of tensegrity.  Tensegrity is a synergy of materials achieved by a balance of tension and compression in their components.  U-Domes are designed to ship easily and go up fast.

buildingadomePutting one of World Shelter’s U-Domes together looks complicated – it’s something like wrestling with really big origami – but it can be done by volunteers with little or no training.   It’s one way you can get a village standing in a day. The domes that went up this weekend are strong, light and portable – built to withstand 80 mph winds and last for ten years.  Those who contributed to the project included members of two battalions of  Navy Sea-Bees, some of whom had just returned from deployment in Afghanistan. SHELTER_river-3831 They put down sixteen wooden pads on gravel that provide steady grounding and support for the domes.  Allegra Fuller Snyder, Buckminster Fuller’s daughter, stopped by to support the effort and fill us in on her father.  She gave us an interview connecting the vision of her dad with the applications Bruce has been seeking for his domes.  We hope Bucky Fuller will be the spiritual father of our film.

Shelter-4701Cheryl Deay of the United Way was heading up some of of the volunteers on site. She told us that 70% of the homeless population are working and struggling to get out of homelessness.  For the most part they keep a low profile.  “For every homeless person you see there are eight more that you don’t see.”  She explained that you may see the men on the street, but the women and children and families are hidden away.

SHELTER will follow this and some other projects Bruce has going and will also track pre-fab housing projects for the very rich.  We’ve completed interviews with Jennifer Siegal of the Office of Mobile Design and have met with two more pre-fab architecture powerhouses, Shigeru Ban and Dean Maltz, to speak with them about being in the film.



This is the ongoing production blog of SHELTER.  The film examines everyone’s right to a roof over their head and focuses on pre-fab methods of building as advanced by such architects as Jennifer Siegal, Whitney Sander, Shigeru Ban and Dean Maltz, design innovators like Buckminster Fuller and activists like Bruce LeBel of World Shelters.  SHELTER is a production of DocuCinema and Adventure Pictures.  Its executive producers are Lee Schneider and Richard Neill.