Archive for the ‘shelter’ Tag
Designing for Good in Haiti
Last summer, a small crew from our Shelter production team filmed in Haiti. We had just a few days to cover the vital work of Architecture for Humanity, Yves Francois, and several students with the University of Minnesota College of design who were working on infrastructure and community development projects. The short film we made has been shown at screenings in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, and of course, has been viewed a lot on Vimeo. We started up our educational outreach program, called Shelter: connect, running workshops and connecting with students worldwide.
Now it’s time to go to the next step. We recently did a follow up interview in San Francisco with Eric Cesal, who heads up Architecture for Humanity’s Haiti office. We’re prepping to return to Haiti to complete the stories we started tracking there.
The campaign is live on Kickstarter. Have a look and find out what we’re planning to film during our return to Haiti. We’re offering some great rewards for your support.
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.
Click here to follow Spot.Us on Twitter.
Click here to follow Docuguy on Twitter.
Written by Lee Schneider, Director of SHELTER
The Haiti SOFTHOUSE is described by its creators as “a flexible and sustainable approach to shelter that provides immediate transitional housing.” It’s steel-framed housing with fabric on top. The SOFTHOUSEgroup, which is behind the project, reports that it’s currently working in conjunction with The Rural Haiti Project to deploy the project in Haiti. In other words, they are outsiders trying as best they can to work with locals to create a project that is relevant and which fills a need.
That’s not always so easy.
Bruce Nussbaum, a design commentator, recently asked in his blog if humanitarian design might be the new imperialism. It’s a good bomb-throwing concept that has people talking. Certainly, Nussbaum has shined a big flashlight on the problem of outsiders coming in with design solutions that locals don’t always want. Why don’t locals want these solutions? Well, they don’t always employ locals. They don’t always work well with local infrastructure. There’s a general grumbling to the effect that “what makes these outsiders believe they can just come in and solve our problems?”
It’s a question that sometimes comes up for Nathaniel Corum, a self-described nomadic architect who has just started working with Architecture for Humanity on Haiti reconstruction. Corum has recently worked on a Navajo reservation, where he designed and helped residents build solar-powered homes made from straw bales. To protest the wasteful use of plastic, he’s made a 130-day voyage across the Pacific Ocean in a boat called Plastiki. It was made from 12,500 recycled plastic bottles and he designed the cabin.
As quoted by the Times, he answered the charge of design imperialism like this:
“The richer the dialogue you have with the people you’re working with the better,” he said. “I spend lots of time with them, and learn so much, especially from people living close to the land. Humanitarian design isn’t the new imperialism, it’s the new compassion.”
Many would agree that compassion as a design concept is a good idea. But what about execution? Another story. Tell that to the people who are working – and failing – to get the One Laptop Per Child design into India. The mission is to put inexpensive laptop or notebook computers into the hands of children in developing countries. But it hasn’t worked in India – because the Indian educational establishment has blocked the one-laptop movement. They know there are problems with their schools, they say, but the problems are not technological. The system is dysfunctional for other reasons. So they don’t need a technological solution like a laptop.
Designing for good can start with good intentions – but for those who practice it, deploying good design in the field requires diplomacy and a truly personal sort of compassion.
You can follow me on Twitter here.
Written by Cameron Sinclair, Co-founder of Architecture for Humanity and the Open Architecture Network
Live from Port au Prince
Tonight you’ll see every journalist report ‘live from Port-au-Prince’. They will review the devastation, highlight the heroes and question the rebuilding process, all in a six minute segment. Then we will be onto the oil spill, the terrorist attacks in Uganda, the last minute goal in the World Cup and other issues facing of the world. A number of reporters have been on the ground every day since the quake, they aren’t going anywhere. Truly dedicated individuals that continue to file reports, interview families and chase up government officials and aid agencies despite the appetite for this story growing weak. We will get a blip during the elections, especially if their is violence, but this may be it for major reporting. Remember Katrina? That was on US soil and how often we hear about that after the first year. Like Katrina, this is a five year process, one rife with hurdles and tough choices.
It’s time for the last responders
Six months ago this week I wrote an internal plan for long-term reconstruction for Haiti and, after some discussion, decided to make it public. Within days of posting it [on The Huffington Post] it was tweeted hundreds of times. This is the eighth time my organization has been a part of a post-disaster reconstruction program and, given that we had spent time in Haiti pre-quake, I felt it was important to set expectations. As we raised funds and began to initiate projects, I wanted donors, partners and community stakeholders to understand that we were not in for the “quick fix” or a “number of people served” response, we’re in for the long term. We are the last responders.
In the plan I noted six months as the transition point from recovery to reconstruction. This is the time of the last responders, the motley crew of hundreds of building and water/sanitation professionals who work for years after the last major news outlet has left. As the thousands of NGOs will be whittled down to a few hundred, hopefully local groups, including social entrepreneurs, NGOs and small businesses, should feature as the predominant player in the reconstruction process. They don’t just need to, they have to. While the international community can add capacity and play an important support role to truly move out of the “aid culture” the ownership needs to be Haitian led. The fourth phase, economic development, will only work if the foundation of reconstruction is regionally based.
They were the first, they will also be the last
In the moments after the quake, long before the first convoy crossed the border of the Dominican Republic, the true first responders were the Haitian people. Those lucky enough to escape injury did not run to the hills, they ran to the screaming. They went into fallen structures and clawed out those trapped underneath the rubble, they consoled those who had lost their loved ones. Never, ever underestimate the resilience of a people struck by monumental disaster. The despair in their eyes was for the collective, not the individual.
As the world’s community responded, those affected were incredibly grateful. As shock gave way to need and need gave way to a a desire to return to normalcy, anger crept into the voices of those looking a way to get out of the tent cities. This anger is understandable. Imagine being a carpenter now living in a tent by the airport. Every day you sit with your family watching SUVs snarled in a traffic jam outside. Fumes from the idling cars fill the air. You keep hearing false expectations that everything will be back to normal in less than a year and all the solutions will be imported, from shipping container housing to modular solutions – no need for lots of carpenters or masons.
This carpenter is the key to rebuilding Haiti. We need to push, demand and fight to move into this last responder phase. One in which equal partnerships are formed with local architects, engineers and builders. One where we think pragmatically about what gets built, homes that are not only safe but support LOCAL jobs. We should be building vocational training facilities that utilize the reconstruction as a mechanism for sustainability. [in partnership with AIDG we assessed thousands of homes and trained hundreds of local masons] The underlying point here is jobs, jobs, jobs. Let’s put the work into working it out.
Next Generation Leadership
Beyond economic stability and safe housing, the most important structures that needs to be built are schools. This will be a sector that Architecture for Humanity, my organization, will focus on. I believe our greatest impact will come from building not only a school of the future but for the future of Haiti. Not only incorporating digital inclusion, off the grid technologies and new teaching methodologies but empowering and supporting existing vocations. Every school must be led by Haitian organizations and built in a sustainable manner (financially and architecturally). These schools are dawn to dusk buildings and will become centers in revitalized communities.
Over the last few months teams of probono designers on the ground have developed and revised prototypes and we’ve formed relationships with a number of existing schools and made dozens of site visits. However we may have funds available to build a few more of these community anchors. Primarily funded via Students Rebuild, a $500,000 match for schools that are fundraising for Haiti around the world, we’ve developed a Request for Proposal (rfp) process to ensure the building and rebuilding of Haitian led schools. (if you are looking to have your school funded, you can log onto our site. We have an open process)
No Ego, No Logo
One last point. In the last ten years we’ve never put our name on a building, we’ve never put one of our donors either. No, it’s not because we are cheap (fiscally responsible), it is much more important reason.
Working in community led reconstruction you rip away any local ownership by sticking a fancy logo on the building. As if you to say “This building is yours but just remember, we built it – and please remember it every day.” I know the reason why people do it but the community knows who donated it and the builders know who funded the building. If you’d like to donate, please don’t expect to see your name on the building. See your compassion in those who the building will serve.
To donate to Architecture for Humanity, click here.
Follow Cameron Sinclair on Twitter.
Written by Lee Schneider | Director of SHELTER
Michelle Kaufmann is a pioneer in the prefab housing movement. You might think that happened because she started a factory to manufacture architect-designed homes, or because she has showcased full-sized replicas of her homes in prominent museums like the National Building Museum in Washington, or the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Those are big achievements and do identify her as an innovator and a culture shaker. But, for me, what makes her a pioneer and a leader is something else.
She is making sustainability not only a way to build, but also a state of mind.
“It’s not just looking at using eco materials and choosing production and systems that are energy efficient and can save water,” she said in interview. “It really goes beyond that by thinking about outdoor spaces as much as indoor spaces. It’s thinking about what makes a sustainable community that goes beyond the materials themselves. It’s about shared resources.”
This is a holistic view of architecture and design, and it makes good sense. No building exists by itself – there’s a relationship to the people who use it, to the land it is placed on, to the resources it uses.
She has a project going in Denver called aria that illustrates this. The construction is prefab, which means that much of the construction is happening off-site, in a factory, where the homes are put together in a modular fashion, then brought onto the site and completed there.
Construction is more efficient and green this way. The homes themselves use recycled materials and alternative energy sources like solar. The community features roadbed made from recycled concrete and water-conserving native plants. The design also calls for a community pavilion in which residents can learn about organic cooking, using food grown from the on-site garden.
“We’re thinking about things in a more holistic way.”
Over the course of her career, Michelle has championed the use of recyclable materials in the 53 green homes she has built. She’s corrected some assumptions along the way, too, such as the belief that a house made of recyclables would have to be made of old tires or that it wouldn’t be possible to take a hot shower while living in one. The homes she designs not only look good, but they make us feel good.
Early prefab homes designed by Michelle and others were expensive and one of a kind, but they established a necessary proof of concept. They showed clients it was possible to build green and make it beautiful. Today, the Denver site represents the next generation of prefab, as it mixes affordable and market rate housing. It’s not meant to be “one of a kind,” but to show that a design can be replicated at other sites, making it more accessible. This can be a path to healthier buildings, a path to architecture that is part of an ecosystem and a path to change.
“Architects can drive change, but I think we have to rethink ourselves and our role as architects.”
While the world celebrates star architects like Frank Gehry, it’s been useful for me to remember that architecture is for the most part a conservative profession. Innovators like Michelle Kaufmann (and Gehry) are rare. Michelle told me during our interview that fewer than three percent of homes are actually designed by architects – most are done by builders, but builders are not trained to innovate, instead simply to execute. But now we are at the start of a new chapter, one that features collaboration as a critical tool for success. Michelle cited the Open Architecture network as an example of this. It makes design open and free, and promotes designs that conserve both water and energy. It’s a part of the holistic view of architecture bringing us better homes and better communities.
“We are in a very interesting time. our values system is now shifting more towards community, but also community in our businesses. We’re collaborating, and that’s where real change is happening,” Michelle said.
To learn more about her latest projects, check out her website.
Written by Lee Schneider
There’s a workshop in Orange, CA where Airstream trailers go to be reborn. They have put in thousands of miles, witnessed the magic of mountains and deserts, and still they’re ready for more of life’s highway.
“We’re taking something that is unique in this RV world and bringing it back to life,” said Uwe Salwender of Area 63 Productions. He restores Airstream trailers. “There’s a lot of aluminum on these and they last a very long time. I’ve seen trailers that are 50 years old and they’re still fully functional. You could move into one of those and live full time.“ He lives in one full time with his wife.
“I myself feel very, very comfortable having a sizable airstream in my possession. I know that no matter what happens I always have a home, and a comfortable one and a stylish one. I would not hurt for the beautiful house I left, because my airstream is just as beautiful but in a different way.”
Depending on the intensity of the job, a restoration by Uwe Salwender can take from six weeks to a year and a half. Here’s short video about what he does.
Uwe Salwender entered the Airstream life while on a vacation trip to Mexico, at the Sea of Cortez. “We started wild camping down there out of a van and a jeep,” he said. The camping was wild, but it “became kind of eh, you know, wind and weather and other influences, animals and snakes and things that we’re not that fond of.”
Nevertheless, he was overpowered by the beauty of the place, and drawn into a connection with the land he felt while living in an old Airstream he had bought. It was a time capsule, flimsy, with an ugly interior, but beautiful in its Airstream way. So beautiful, he couldn’t make himself tear it apart to fix it, so he sold it, bought another, fixed that one, and then friends started to learn about what he was doing.
“I wouldn’t do it publicly for a long time. I wanted for it to sort of remain a hobby.” But five years ago, when the economy started to dip, the volume was turned down on his old job which involved making high-end audio prototypes, amplifiers and stage systems for touring rock bands, and the volume was turned way up on his Airstream restoration business. It was an easy transition to switch over to restoration full time, he said, because building audio prototypes made him familiar with aluminum extrusions and working with wood. Working with the idiosyncrasies of rock musicians simply transformed into working with the idiosyncrasies of Airstream design.
“My favorites are from the forties to the mid 1960s. Much newer and they’re not as rewarding I should say.”
Salwender believes the Airstream offers a more grounded way to travel, helping people connect with themselves, and as proof he offers a few stories. He’s found that clients who may argue a lot with their spouses seem to calm down in their Airstream. People ask for built in big screen TV entertainment centers “because they can’t miss their USC games.” But sometimes he gently suggests they forgo the TV and go for a walk outside or try starting a conversation with other people at the campsite. He’ll put in the flat screen if you really want it, and hook it up to satellite TV. You can also get solar panels so you can stay off the grid, and a high-end kitchen so you can make more than just soup – a soufflé would work fine in an Airstream.
Jennifer Siegal is an architect whose company is called the Office of Mobile Design. She’s in favor of smaller and more portable forms of housing. What if when you moved, you didn’t need to build a new house but instead took the old one with you? In an interview for SHELTER she talked about how smaller living spaces helped clients simplify their lives.
Today’s revolution of “smaller is better” and putting a house on wheels is really more of an evolution unfolding over decades. Architectural history geeks usually acknowledge Jean Prouve as the founding father of the pre-fab metal home, as he used a workshop approach to create designs that could be mass produced. The “home on wheels” was popularized by founder of the Airstream company, Wally Byam. He bought what would become the Airstream design from an engineer and aircraft builder named William Hawley Bowlus. Byam marketed the design so effectively, Airstream owners felt they weren’t just buying a recreational vehicle, they were buying into a movement. They were free to see the country in their silvery orbs, to do some creative drifting, to experience life unfiltered and seek out the community of fellow free spirits. The early Airstream designs had an industrial Bauhaus sleekness, joining the parade of industrial objects that make up the magic American age of pop design. Airstreams live long and go deep.
“It’s an iconic thing like Harley Davidson, and maybe ’57 Chevy, Buick’s Roadmaster, you know, Zippo lighters. There’s a number of American things that just won’t go away no matter what, right? And I think this is one of them,” Salwender said.
Photo Credit: Airstream by the ocean by Prawnpie via Flickr. Creative Commons License. Shop photos and portraits by Lee Schneider. Interior Airstream renovation images by Uwe Salwender. Music courtesy Mark Radcliffe. Road footage courtesy DocuCinema.
Written by Joel John Roberts
I sometimes long for the heydays when nonprofit homeless agencies flourished. It was in the 1980s; I was just becoming an adult.
Most of the homeless organizations in the Los Angeles region were created in that decade when compassionate and generous people—many from faith groups—created shelters, food banks, and transitional housing programs in response to the growing homeless population.
If you’re familiar with nonprofits in Los Angeles, you’ve certainly heard of Chrysalis, Beyond Shelter, PATH, and LA Family Housing. All agencies that started in the 1980s. Those were the days when hearts were moved, and purse strings opened. When even the federal government began to invest significant resources into addressing homelessness.
Those were the days… But reminiscing will get us nowhere.
A few decades later, during the worst economy since the Great Depression, and oh how times have changed. We are entrenched in an environment of scarcity that sometimes pits typically good-hearted people and groups against each other. Competing for dwindling funds is becoming as harsh as the Coca Cola and Pepsi rivalry.
But hawking cans of carbonized sugar water is so much more insignificant than promoting programs that save people’s lives.
The days of free flowing government funding for homeless programs are over. Even when the latest federal stimulus program pumped in $1.5 billion into homeless prevention programs. Why? Because there is a catch.
Let me explain.
In most of today’s government funding programs, there is a quiet policy of “serve now, pay later.” Basically, private homeless agencies that win a contract to house or serve homeless people have to perform their services first, then bill for those services a month later. That means an agency pays salaries and operating expenses for a month, then waits a month or two to get paid.
Let me explain this in basic terms—nonprofit organizations have become the “line of credit” for government funding. For some agencies it could run as much as $50,000 to $300,000, plus interest if the agency is borrowing the funds.
Here’s another catch. Contract execution means payment delays. Every year, a contract has to be renewed and executed. It doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it takes months for renewed contracts to be executed, while agencies are not allowed to receive payments during that time. Can’t get paid if there’s no signed contract. But housing and services have to continue. You don’t shut down your shelter or housing program for a few months until a contract is signed. No one with any moral character is going to put homeless people back on the streets while they wait for a contract to be executed.
And then there’s this. Many, if not all government homeless programs now require a cash match. If you receive $100 dollars of government funds, you have to match that with $10 to $25 of private funding. It makes sense in a perfect world. Leverage public funds with private dollars.
But when every level of government funding requires this, many agencies just can’t afford to receive such funding. Especially when separate government agencies won’t allow an agency to use other government sources as leverage.
Let me put it this way. You have public funding to support 80 beds, only if you can find private support for 20 beds. But if you cannot fund 20 beds, then all 100 beds go away.
Cash match, is more like game, set, and match. Where government wins, and private agencies lose. And most importantly, there are less resources for hurting people on our streets.
Many organizations in Los Angeles, like GLASS and Women’s Care Cottage, have shut down their operations because of this.
You could say this is just the result of the survival of the fittest agency, but let’s get real. This is not about how many nonprofit agencies can survive. This is about how many people we can save from the streets.
This is not a debate on whether government funding should help hurting people, or whether the private community should. This is about people suffering on our streets.
And while there are still people languishing in alleys, parks, and along our freeways… then our society should do everything it can to help them off.
That means dispelling ideals, and just allow the funds that are already approved, to house and serve homeless people. Whether a nonprofit agency can leverage those funds or not.
Otherwise, more and more organizations created by compassionate community members will just fade to black.
(Pic from www.madsenlawoffice.com)
Written by Lee Schneider, director of SHELTER
Peter Samuelson likes to tinker with the things that scare or bother him. He’s found that sometimes walking up to your fears and having a chat with them can change many things in the world, and not just yourself.
Samuelson is a film producer and philanthropist who founded three major children’s philanthropies: the Starlight Children’s Foundation in 1982 to assist seriously ill children, the Starbright Foundation in 1990 to continue that work, and First Star in 1999 to benefit abused and neglected children. He credits his parents for instilling in him a sense of doing social good. But the entrepreneurial drive comes from being a film producer.
“You get very good as a film producer at fixing things … what a film producer does, is that every six or nine or twelve months, you are in some place you’ve never been to before, with a group of people you mostly don’t know, with a brand new script and you’re working out, What does this mean? How do we do this? How can we afford this? What is the solution to this? You get undaunted.”
He’s made films as varied as Revenge of the Nerds, The Libertine with Johnny Depp and John Malkovich, and Tom & Viv with Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson. But it was his sense of observation that led to the birth of something called the EDAR. It came about because he rides his bike on weekend mornings and started to notice that there were more homeless persons than before. “One of the things that has worked really well for me, that has its amusing side, is that if I’m a little bit scared of something I make myself do it.” He decided he would do interviews with the homeless people he encountered on his bike rides.
Samuelson interviewed 62 homeless persons and asked them two broad groups of questions: “How do you get money, and where do you sleep?” He learned that money came from recycling and sometimes panhandling. He also learned that their sleeping conditions were pretty rough. One day he had an epiphany when, near where he lived, he met a woman who was sleeping in a refrigerator box. The brand of refrigerator was the same kind as the one in his kitchen. The meeting started the philanthropist in him working, as well as the designer and the mathematician.
Click to hear a short clip of Peter telling the story.
“In the County of LA there are about 72,000 homeless people, and there are 12,400 beds in shelters. Building a shelter is at a marginal cost of about $50,000 per bed generated. So if you want a building with a hundred beds it’s about a five million dollar building. So if you run the math, $50,000 times 60,000, that’s three billion dollars, and I have no clue how you raise three billion dollars.”
He realized that the solution had to be cheap, better than a tent, and have wheels. It should have pockets so you could put recycling in it, and at night it better have brakes so you could park it and turn it into a bed. He also realized that it had to have windows, “so that you can keep an eye on what’s going on outside. That was as far as I got” on the EDAR concept.
Samuelson called a meeting with the dean of the Pasadena Art Center College of Design and asked him, “Have you ever had a competition for something non-profit?” They put together a contest, which Samuelson sponsored, to find the best design for a mobile shelter. Through the competition Peter met designers Eric Lindeman and Jason Zasa, who helped create what would become the EDAR. With wire design and fabrication provided by John Ondrasic and Mike Orozco of Precision Wire Inc., they went through about seven prototypes.
Click to hear Peter tell the story of how they tested the EDAR.
It costs a little under $500 to make an EDAR and they are given out free of charge. Each time Samuelson’s group receives another $500 in donations, they put it toward making another EDAR. Says Samuelson, “It’s the most blessedly simple thing that I’ve ever done philanthropically.”
Currently, there are 200 EDARs deployed in Los Angeles, Denver, Colorado Springs, Phoenix and Camden. NJ. Julie Yurth Himot, the EDAR Program Coordinator, took me down to the Midnight Mission on Skid Row in Los Angeles to meet a few people who are living in EDARs now.
Pops got one of the first EDARs and his only suggestion is that it needed stronger zippers. Julie promised him one of the newer models on which that design modification has been made. When I asked, Pops told me that he came to Los Angeles twenty years ago from North Carolina. He was skilled at installing flooring, tile and carpet and wanted to retire in Southern California. But things didn’t go as planned and he’s been at the Midnight Mission for a few years now.
Brenda likes the shelter of the courtyard at the Midnight Mission, particularly when she has an EDAR to grant her privacy. She also likes that it has windows. “You can see the planes go by, you can see the thunder and the lightning. You can see anything, cloudy days, sunny days, you can see anything. This is scenery.”
Through photography and filmmaking, Corina Gamma explores the many concepts of home. She conceptualizes home as not only a physical condition, but also as a state of mind. In her film documentary Ties on a Fence Corina Gamma captures the disenfranchised women of Skid Row in Los Angeles, their daily experiences and everyday struggles. Many of the interviews are articulated through conversations, poetry, and photographs taken by the women. “Ties on a Fence” was featured in nine film festivals nationwide and won awards for best documentary at the Black Earth Film Festival and also at the Santa Clarita Film Festival. Corina edited a special sequence from the film for us to present to you on SHELTER.
Only six city blocks from the financial district of downtown Los Angeles is “Skid Row,” an area with a large concentration of missions and shelters, which makes it the largest emergency-service dependent community in the United States. These services keep the homeless in a very isolated area. This is the area Corina focuses on in her film. Some estimates have it that 35 to 45 percent of homeless people in Los Angeles County are women. “Ties on a Fence” was facilitated by the Downtown Women’s Center.
River Haven is a transitional community for people dealing with the issues of homelessness. Last September, World Shelters and The Turning Point Foundation teamed up with hundreds of volunteers to revitalize River Haven, which was previously functioning as a tent city encampment. The volunteers installed 19 geodesic structures called U-Domes, and later on others came by to improve the landscaping, provide beds, gas grills, a refrigerator, and offer other aspects of shelter many of us might take for granted. This is the first in what we intend to be a series of profile pieces about people who are living at River Haven and in other communities.
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