Archive for the ‘World Shelters’ Tag

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Slide Show Media: Mike at River Haven

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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SHELTER Video

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!

Running the Numbers

Written by Lee Schneider, director of SHELTER.

How many homeless people are there in the United States? It’s a tricky question to answer, but I want to try running some numbers past you. The National Alliance to End Homelessness has some good ones to get this started. They estimate there are 672,000 people on the streets every night. Of those 672,000, 37% are believed to be homeless families, usually a woman with one or two children.

Most homeless people are, as you might expect, looking for shelter in cities. But at least 20 percent of them are in rural areas, and that number may be even higher because the more remote the area, the harder it is to count the homeless who may be living there.

The number one state, with the most homeless of all? California.

That’s amazing to me: Our once-prosperous state, home to much innovation, money and creative energy, has become the homeless capital of America. According to some observers, it might be the nation’s first state to fail.

What I’ve written above are the most solid numbers I could find, and they’re from two years ago – the last time anybody compiled state-by-state data. Drawing from those 2007 numbers again, we learn that 42% of homeless people are living on the street, but more than half – 58% – are in transitional housing. That’s the spark of good news I think – because many believe that transitional, even temporary housing, is the way to help solve homelessness. To focus on that, let’s go to Ventura, California.

In Ventura, the numbers are newer, drawn from data gathered this year in the last week of January. On a given day, there are about 2200 homeless children and adults on the streets in Ventura. (Federal estimates put the number even higher, at more than 8,000, according to the Ventura County Star.) Most of those children and adults, 73%, are living on the streets but the remainder, a little over 25%, have found some kind of shelter, some in temporary accommodations such as River Haven.

Some experts believe that 18% of the homeless population are “chronically” homeless, meaning that they are mentally ill or otherwise unable to care for themselves.

There’s debate on that number, but even if it’s rough, it still means that a lot of homeless people are people who may have slipped into a tough position and are trying to work their way out. With the economy still in slow recovery mode, it means that we have a crisis on low simmer that’s not going to go away. More families are going to be looking for shelter.

This is where the architects and designers can step in with inventive solutions. Bruce LeBel of World Shelters recently put up another round of housing in Arcata. (Working with the Turning Point Foundation, Bruce’s company World Shelters revitalized the River Haven community in Ventura, California.) Vinay Gupta has long been developing the Hexayurt, a shelter that can be made from plywood, composites, hexacomb cardboard and other materials. He sees Hexayurts as a solution for regions with large scale rehousing needs, such as Bangladesh. They’ve also been used at Burning Man.  Vinay believes in open source design – anybody can build a Hexayurt – and many have!

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The River Haven Community

mike-4750Written by Lee Schneider, director of the film SHELTER.

I didn’t know you could play a Celine Dion CD off a car battery. But Mike Casper has figured out a way to do it. He’s one of twenty or so residents of River Haven, a transitional encampment in Ventura County, California.  River Haven has been around for four years, but recently Mike was among those who helped radically change it.

At the end of September, several hundred volunteers came to River Haven for a day, erected 19 pre-fabricated U-Dome residences from World Shelters, then had some pizza for lunch and moved on. Of course, the job wasn’t over. Some people had to come back to rebuild the platforms on which the dome homes rested. Others brought flowers and resealed doors and caulked leaks. The U-Domes experience shows that you can get pretty close to building a village in a day, but it takes a longer commitment to make the village work for the residents.

mike-4743Mike Casper has seen the “old” River Haven when it was just a tent city, a sea of mud and leaky canvas, and he helped put up the new River Haven, which looks something like a space village, particularly at night, when the interiors of the domes are lighted from within. Mike has refurbished a couple of propane grills for cooking, fired up the Honda generator to put a charge on the 12-volt car batteries that power his and other residents’ DVD/CD players, and has even found some time for filing. That’s right, filing.  “Somebody donated these filing cabinets. I’ve been putting our stuff in them,” he said. The idea amuses him. But he likes to keep busy.

Before he lost his house, Mike told me, he was a building contractor with a Beverly Hills clientele. Working with his hands comes naturally to him.

He’s put his skills to work at River Haven, contributing to the community.  Corliss Porter, the Clinical Director at Turning Point Foundation, was the project coordinator on the one-day U-Dome installation, and she’s a key player in the ongoing administration of River Haven. She spent two rainy nights in a River Haven dome and found it pretty comfortable. “One little kerosene lantern warmed the place up even with wind,” she said. But she’s also spent more than two decades managing psychosocial rehabilitation services. The question that’s occupied her all those years is this: “How do you create a sane community to support personal growth?”

Personal growth comes, she’s found, when external structures are in place. “If the external structure is clear and fair, above all fair, that affects how people start working on their internal chaos.”

reportcards-4780A resident has found that if you hang up a few mementos, like your old grade school report cards, a dome can  feel like home.

Put any of us out on the street, Corliss explained, and in two weeks or less our thinking becomes minute-to-minute. How do I get warm? Where do I go to the bathroom? Where’s my next meal coming from? “People on the street have a basic form of PTSD. [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. Some of them more, some of them less.”

In that situation, you don’t make decisions coming from your best emotional state. You can’t focus on the problem – it simply overwhelms you. But with some structure and a sense of community such as River Haven provides, you have a shot at staying focused, at transitioning, at beginning to heal.

Last year at River Haven, they started doing peer mediation training for residents. “It altered the community,” Corliss said. “It shifted the way they attended to the problems and the community came along with it.”

River Haven residents pay $250 monthly rent. They have to stay clean and sober, participate in community meetings, and keep looking for work. Finding work – tough in this economic climate. “A lot of people are out of work these days,” Mike Casper told me. He’s keeping busy. There’s still a lot to do at River Haven, now that the new refrigerator that runs on propane has been donated.

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Lee Schneider is the founder of DocuCinema, a media production company based in Los Angeles.  Partnered with Adventure Picures, the company is producing the movie SHELTER.

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A Village in One Day

With three HD cameras rolling and a still camera shooting time lapse images we witnessed something remarkable through our viewfinders.

River Haven U-Domes _Panorama _6

photo courtesy Bruce LeBel

At the River Haven homeless encampment in Ventura, California, we saw nineteen new homes constructed in just one day. The homes are called U-Domes, a product of World Shelters. They are weather worthy, rated to withstand 80 mph winds, fire-retardant, and fully recyclable. They have locking doors, windows and vents.

We’re putting all the material filmed on the construction day into our edit system in San Francisco. Our Los Angeles edit system is handling the timelapse sequences. We hope to have some previews of the timelapse materials up on this site soon. It’s all part of our documentary called SHELTER.

There has been a little drama while building this village.  High winds blew some of the structures off their platforms before they could be properly anchored. The platforms had to be rebuilt because of a design problem. But by Thursday a small crew of workers hopes to finish fixing the platforms, with a move in scheduled next week for twenty five River Haven residents.

Mark Michaels, a resident of River Haven who helps oversee the community, told us that the residents were really looking forward to taking occupancy, now that winter weather is on the way. “We can get some heavy rains here,” he said. “The whole area can turn into a lake.” But with the U-Domes sturdily perched on their wooden platforms, River Haven residents can stay warm and dry. There are six of U-Domes with 200 square feet of space for couples and 13 U-Domes with 120 square feet for singles.

Do projects like this represent the future of pre-fab used in emergency relief situations? Bruce LeBel of World Shelters will find out. In the coming weeks, he will be working with county and city governments to get approval for similar U-Dome installations elsewhere in California. There’s a lot of red tape to cut through and a lot of NIMBY – “Not In My Backyard.” But as Steven Elias, a friend of World Shelters, explained, while a 250-person homeless shelter might meet with resistance in some communities, small twenty five-person communities might answer the needs of the homeless without having a large footprint.

According to the Ventura County 2009 Homeless Count, there are 2,193 homeless people in Ventura County, counting 361 children. 161 families are homeless.

Certainly there’s a need to shelter the homeless, and pre-fab structures like U-Domes could help. Yet U-Domes are just one form of pre-fab. Generally speaking, pre-fabricated manufacturing is a method of constructing homes using manufactured sections that are assembled on site. This method can be “greener” than traditional construction methods because fabrication is centralized and homes can go up more quickly. This brings another advantage – pre-fab can cost less than conventional building.

447521606_8d24a21a5e

photo from Florian via Flickr

Companies like LivingHomes offer high-end pre-fab homes. Jennifer Siegal, founder of the Office of Mobile Design, (OMD) has pioneered the construction of prefabricated homes, schools and other buildings. Ms. Siegal is a big fan of portable architecture – like the classic Airstream trailer.

But high-end pre-fab hasn’t always found an audience. One pre-fab pioneer, Michelle Kaufmann, closed her Oakland, California company MK Designs this past May, citing the bad economy and withering housing market. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Blu Homes, of Boston, MA,  purchased the rights to build Kaufmann’s preconfigured designs.

Still, what often comes out of pre-fab projects, even the expensive ones, are “ideas, experimental materials, assembly methods, and good design–which can often translate into lower costs for all housing,” including homes for the homeless, says Richard Neill, director of photography on SHELTER and an executive producer on the project.

Could be that companies like World Shelters, and groups like Architecture for Humanity are looking into the robust future of pre-fab by focusing on disaster relief, temporary housing and housing for the homeless. We’re going to tell their story in SHELTER. Look for production updates here.

Thanks to Panasonic for donating the use of one of the world’s most advanced 1080P HD cameras–Panasonic’s P2 HD Cinema VariCam, and also thanks to Marshall Thompson for additional cinematography.

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This is the ongoing  blog of SHELTER, a movie about innovative solutions to provide housing for everyone.   The film examines everyone’s right to a roof over their head and focuses on inventive 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.

Survey Day

SHELTER_river-3745Today we had a look around the River Haven site. This is a homeless encampment in Ventura, California that has been in existence for four years.  For four years it has been a tent community, the only self-governing homeless camp in Ventura County.  With winter on the way, it’s getting an overhaul — with pre-fab shelters called U-Domes.SHELTER_river-3740

World Shelters and the Turning Point Foundation have teamed to create  housing for 25 individuals. In the place of the tents will be six 200 square foot U-Domes and 13 120-square foot U-Domes on wooden platforms. The structures have locking doors, windows and vents. The U-Domes are pre-fab structures, and tomorrow morning they will be part of an amazing experiment.  Several hundred volunteers will arrive to set them up.  The catch?  They will be learning “on the job.” Bruce LeBel, who heads up World Shelters, wants to see if its possible for volunteers to create a community in a day.

“I expect that if we have 100 people in six hours we will get through it. Can U-Domes be erected by unskilled people?  We’ll see!  That’s our experiment.”  — Bruce LeBel

SHELTER_river-3853Early this morning, Navy Sea-bees were prepping the pads for the U-Domes.  It was quiet  – just the sound of conversation, power drills and teamwork.  Commander Williamson told us that there were two Sea-bee battalions at work  – all volunteering their time.  Some had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Still, they pitched in.  They expected to stay “until the job was done.”