With empowerment and dignity in mind: a new multi-service emergency shelter for homeless men and women

Presented by: Kenan Fishburne and Jill Pable

In early 2014, community brainstorming began for a new homeless shelter called the xxxxxxx (name and location withheld for blind review). Two interior design professors (the authors) were asked to join the design team’s architect and interior designer on the project, with the goal of offering practical ideas and advice informed by their previous shelter design research (hence, this proposal’s category of ‘interior design as an idea’).  Working together with the design team, donors, residents, case workers, and the shelter director, the authors proposed a programmatic focus on resident empowerment and dignity, ideas aligned with the owners’ aspirational intentions and a dominant theme in research regarding trauma-informed care. 

The choice of programmatic focus is important for shelters, as research by others suggests that homeless residents draw inferences from a shelter’s built environment and its support or suppression of their dignity (Chapin, 1951; Miller, 1992; Miller & Keys, 2001). This in turn, may affect residents’ self esteem and ability to secure stable housing and employment (Burn, 1992). Miller & Keys identified two categories of opportunity for supporting dignity within their research: (1) interpersonal transactions and (2) person-environment transactions (2001). These two ideas are represented in this solution. The concept of ‘windows of opportunity’ was chosen to reflect a sense of optimism, purpose and potential progress for residents. This idea guided general design guidelines and/or detailed specifications in art, signage, color palette, materiality, furniture space planning, millwork design, and lighting. Theories of psychology, illumination, color, art, territoriality, and proxemics influenced these choices.
 
Fourteen months and hundreds of pro bono hours later, the solution exhibits details by the authors both broad and local in scope that support resident empowerment and dignity through three different means important for this population, explained in the table in the accompanying PDF file. Specific features supporting empowerment and dignity are provided in photo captions with the symbols described in the accompanying images.  

Acknowledgements.   The architectural firm and fine artists’ names are withheld for blind review.

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