Posts tagged with "Homelessness":

Placeholder Alt Text

San Francisco to rent 7,000 hotel rooms to the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic

In an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, San Francisco Controller Ben Rosenfield announced last week that the city plans to secure 5,000 additional hotel rooms as a means of protecting and isolating unhoused individuals. This particularly vulnerable segment of the city’s population that has so far been exempt from the city’s shelter-in-place orders enacted on March 17. As reported by Bay Area public radio station KALW, San Francisco has already leased or plans to lease nearly 2,000 hotel rooms to house the homeless. The city is expending an average of $200 per night for these rooms, a rate that includes security, cleaning, and other support services. The emergency ordinance introduced last week—which was voted on and approved unanimously today—by the city’s Board of Supervisors means that a total of 7,000 total hotel rooms will be used exclusively to provide shelter to the unsheltered during the pandemic. This figure is enough to accommodate a large majority of the city’s homeless.population, believed to be over 8,000 people. With tourism and business travel all but halted for the unseen future, there were 30,000 unoccupied hotel rooms spread across San Francisco as of late March according to Business Insider.  “If we are successful with everyone in San Francisco who is housed, but not everyone who is unhoused, we will be putting everyone in danger,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported Supervisor Matt Haney as saying before the ordinance was passed. The hotel room leases will last for 90 days. Based on the city's previous average cost-per-night estimates, this brings the total cost of implementing the ordinance to $105 million. The ordinance, however, also smartly requires that 750 hotel rooms be earmarked for first responders and medical workers who have been exposed to or infected by the virus and another 500 hotel rooms to be set aside as post-treatment quarantine spaces for the general population. This increases the cost, as estimated by the city's Budget and Legislative Analyst's Office, to $58.6 million per month according to the Chronicle. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and California's Office of Emergency Services will reimburse the city for a portion of the costs. The legislation requires that the hotel rooms, numbering 8,250 in total, be available by April 26, which is around the same time that the number of reported coronavirus cases is expected to surge in California wrote the San Francisco Examiner. San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who has been vocal about the logistical challenges presented by the task at hand while also coming under intense scrutiny from several members of the Board, has a week to either approve or veto the Board of Supervisor’s emergency ordinance. If Breed does ultimately veto it, the board can override her vote and move the ordinance forward although this would result in a delay. Breed's administration has been subject to public censure in recent days for its now-scrapped plans to move unhoused people into the Palace of Fine Arts and the Moscone Center, both of which were swiftly converted into makeshift coronavirus shelters earlier this month with room to accommodate 165 and 390 people, respectively. Housing activists and Supervisors alike raised concerns about the size and safety of the facilities, which included limited bathrooms and hand-washing stations, and, in general, seemed like “a very bad idea” as Haney put it. The uproar resulted in an abrupt about-face from the city, which then began to relocate unhoused individuals into the initial round of 2,000 available hotel rooms. To date, 780 people have moved into them. “We have the hotel rooms, we have the staffing, why wouldn’t we do this right now and save thousands of lives,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen during a press conference held last Friday. “We have been given every excuse in the book why this isn’t possible.” Shortly after the emergency hotel ordinance was first announced, one of San Francisco’s largest homeless shelters, the MSC South Shelter, experienced a major outbreak in which 91 people, including a handful of staffers, tested positive for the virus. Over 400 people were cleared from the shelter and have been placed in hotel rooms, a move that Haney says should have happened weeks, even months, ago. “We’ve been getting a new excuse every week as to why they can’t do this,” he told NBC Bay Area. The city plans to reopen the MSC South and transformed it into a recovery center for shelter guests who previously tested positive after it is fully sanitized. The outbreak at MSC South is being depicted as one that was largely preventable. Outside of San Francisco, New York is also beginning to move its homeless population into unoccupied hotel rooms. Mayor de Blasio announced during a weekend press conference that 2,5000 unhoused individuals will be relocated from shelters to hotels over the course of this week. Like in San Francisco, priority will be given to the elderly and individuals with preexisting health conditions or those who are experiencing symptoms of or have tested positive for the virus. “Some shelters have a lot of space, some do not,” said de Blasio, who has come under increasing pressure from advocacy groups and health professionals to free up the city’s massive inventory of available hotel rooms to the unsheltered. “Where it’s clear to our Department of Social Services and our Department of Homeless Services that social distancing cannot be achieved properly, a number of those clients will be moved to hotels to achieve the balance, to make sure there is the proper social distancing.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Homeless families seize vacant homes across L.A. to protest lax quarantine orders

“House keys, not handcuffs.” These words were chanted by advocates of the homeless community earlier this week on the street-facing porch of a vacant home in the hilly East Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno, behind a handwritten sign that read “Shelter in the Storm.” The home was just one of 12 in the neighborhood seized by an organized group of protestors and homeless families following the first reports of the coronavirus in California earlier this month. The protests came just before California Governor Gavin Newsom’s official order yesterday that calls for all state citizens—nearly 40 million people—to “stay at home” in the state’s fight against the virus. And while the state is hurriedly brainstorming solutions for those without shelter, this mandate, of course, leaves out the thousands of Californians who have not received the full benefits of Newsom’s billion-dollar plan to alleviate California’s homeless crisis first announced in January. “With this health crisis and this housing crisis, we need every vacant house to be a home for those who don’t have a safe and stable place to sleep in,” Ruby Gordillo, one of the occupiers of a formerly vacant home, told the Los Angeles Times. With support from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit advocacy group for tenant protections, Gordillo and many others are capitalizing on homes in El Sereno that the California Department of Transportation purchased and left vacated to make room for an extension to the 710 freeway. The protesters in El Sereno are affiliated with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, an organization that has advocated several statewide measures to expand rent control and tenant protections, and were also inspired by the efforts of Moms4Housing, an Oakland-based nonprofit group of homeless mothers that collectively occupied a formerly vacant home this January. Though they were later evicted by cops in riot gear and tanks, it is not yet known how the city will react to the recent seizure of homes in El Sereno under the escalated circumstances.
Placeholder Alt Text

California scrambles to protect its homeless population amidst coronavirus outbreak

With a pandemic sweeping across many of America’s largest population centers, phrases like “shelter-in-place,” “self-quarantine,”  “stay at home” “social distancing,” and “hand sanitizer shortage”  have become fundamental parts of our shared daily language. Yet for thousands of Americans, particularly in cities experiencing high levels of homelessness, these phrases are largely meaningless. For those living on the streets and in shelters, taking refuge from a deadly and highly contagious virus that requires the population to practice vigilance by isolating themselves indoors is, simply, impossible. As reported by Reuters, California Governor Gavin Newsom has warned that up to 60,000 homeless Californians could fall ill with the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the coming weeks. A sharp influx of unsheltered people infected with the virus could put further strain on California’s hospitals as medical workers grapple to care for other vulnerable segments of the population including the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. “Over the next eight-week period, we have modeled that of the 108,000 unsheltered Californians that are out on the streets, if you had an attack rate of about 56 percent, you’re looking at 60-plus thousand individuals that may have COVID-19,” said Newsom in a Facebook-streamed statement. “That creates a deep point of anxiety for the existing population but moreover for our healthcare delivery system, our capacity to move people in and out of the shelters safely without contacting other people and putting them at risk as well.” While much attention has been placed on the Seattle and greater Puget Sound region, where the virus first appeared stateside and where the fatality rate remains the highest, and on ultra-dense, hospital bed-strapped New York City, California has also been heavily affected by COVID-19. As of this writing, there are 906 confirmed cases in the state and 18 deaths. (Nationwide, there are 10,755 confirmed cases and 154 deaths.) As health and emergency officials scramble to curb the spread of the virus and care for those already sickened by it, there are growing local efforts to specifically shield the unsheltered population. In Los Angeles, Reuters reports that Mayor Eric Garcetti has launched a sweeping effort to identify the most vulnerable—this includes the elderly and those with underlying health problems— of the city’s unhoused population and provide shelter to over 6,000 of them in 42 makeshift shelters set up in recreational centers spread across the city. Those who test positive for the virus would be isolated in emergency trailers. Per LAist, the move was activated through the Disaster Service Worker Program, which enables Garcetti to redeploy city employees to “combat a crisis, including to house the homeless.” LAist also reported that the initiative, which will be paid for through a mix of state and federal funds, is being rolled out in phases, with over 1,300 beds expected to be set-up in 13 rec centers by the top of the week. The Red Cross is providing the beds and the city’s Homeless Services Authority will do the work in locating those in greatest need. A rule that previously stipulated that homeless people must dissemble their tents during the daylight hours has been scrapped to promote social distancing and slow the spread of the virus. Yahoo News reported that city officials are also mulling converting vacant motels and hotels to house homeless individuals as the outbreak spreads. “This is an immense undertaking logistically and it’s never been done this quickly in a city, anywhere,” said Garcetti in a statement. “If we don’t get folks off the street, they will become the main spreaders or among the main spreaders of COVID-19 and a threat to themselves.” To date, no unsheltered person in Los Angeles has tested positive for the coronavirus. Outside of Los Angeles, a homeless man in the Santa Clara Valley died earlier this week from COVID-19 in the first known instance of an unsheltered individual succumbing to the virus. There are, as of March 17, 138 cases in ultra-wealthy Santa Clara County and 297 across the greater San Francisco Bay Area. San Jose, California’s third most populous city, has installed hand-washing stations, portable toilets, and showers near established homeless encampments to promote improved hygiene, as reported by Bay Area CBS affiliate KPIX. In the wake of the reported death, however, homeless advocates are urging officials to enact greater, more urgent measures a la Los Angeles. “We’re accelerating efforts to identify motels and other locations where we can move folks as soon as the testing indicates we need to get them out and away from others,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo in a statement. In San Francisco, plans to provide emergency shelters to its homeless population are also coming together. Trent Rhorer, head of the city’s Human Services Agency, is currently in the process of securing large facilities that could accommodate, in the words of the San Francisco Chronicle, “at least 3,500 people who are either unsheltered or who live in congregant settings where they have to share bathrooms and kitchens and cannot self-quarantine.” Shuttered college campuses and churches are being considered by Rhorer and other city officials as are vacant hotels and motels. As the Chronicle reports, Rhorer has already secured 500 hotel rooms for the express purpose of housing the homeless. Across the Bay in Oakland, the state government has also secured two hotels with nearly 400 rooms between them in a bid to shield the unhoused from the virus. However, one not-so-insignificant issue remains: how does the city staff these temporary facilities with case managers, drug counselors, and other workers that would normally be on-hand at a non-ephemeral homeless shelter? Rhorer is confident that it can happen. “It’s not like just setting up an emergency shelter in an earthquake,” he told the Chronicle. “But we can do this. We don’t have a cash flow issue in this city, so we can move fast. You brace for the worst and hope for the best.”
Placeholder Alt Text

San Jose debuts tiny house community for the homeless

Over three years in the making, a San Jose, California, pilot community composed of 40 ultra-tiny houses that will provide temporary shelter to Californians transitioning out of homelessness. Dubbed the Mabury Bridge Housing Project, the village is located on a vacant parcel of land owned by the Valley Transit Authority and is one of two tiny house clusters planned for California’s third most populous city. The second community, located on Caltrans-owned land, is slated to open to residents later this year. Like the rest of California, San Jose, the county seat of wildly affluent Santa Clara County and the de facto capital of Silicon Valley, is in the midst of a homelessness epidemic. As of January 2019, the number of people sleeping in their cars, on the streets, and in shelters within San Jose city limits had increased by 42 percent to 6,172 when compared to 2017 when the last Department of Housing and Urban Development-mandated homelessness census was taken. The current number is likely higher. Built by a small army of Habitat for Humanity volunteers at a cost of $6,500 each, the micro-homes—or “emergency sleeping cabins,” as San Jose officials have dubbed them—measure a mere 80-square-feet, and two are slightly larger to accommodate residents with disabilities. Each single-occupancy living space is equipped with air conditioning/heating units, a twin bed, desk, and shelving. Laundry, shower, and storage facilities are located on-site along with a shared kitchen and ample communal space for socializing and stretching out. A community garden and resource center equipped with computers and job boards are also available to residents. The compound, which includes on-site parking, staff offices, and around-the-clock security, is fenced-in to “control foot traffic in and out of the site,” according to the pilot website. HomeFirst, a San Jose-based nonprofit dedicated to lifting people out of homelessness, is the community’s operator and provides residents with resources beyond temporary housing including healthcare assistance and career training. Residents at Mabury Bridge Housing Project are limited to 60-day stays as they continue down the path to self-sufficiency with the ultimate goal of securing permanent housing. As the Mercury News explained, the “unconventional” community located off of Mabury Road in the shadow of the Bayshore Freeway and opposite the yet-to-open Berryessa BART station to the northeast of downtown San Jose, “offers a mix of stability and compassion for those trying to stay afloat in spite of the region’s chronic shortage of affordable housing.” The Mercury News explained that officials aim to house roughly 120 permanent housing-seeking residents each year, rotating 40 people out—and into permanent housing—every four months. San Jose Inside also noted that two residents have already moved on to permanent housing since the community first opened. Yet at the grand opening ceremony in late February, an event attended by California Governor Gavin Newsom and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, only eight of the community’s 40 cabins were occupied due to restrictions, including background checks, placed on eligible residents, who must be part of Santa Clara County’s rapid rehousing voucher program and actively be seeking permanent housing. Although the community has only been open for a little over a month, there’s been an early struggle in finding qualified people in need to populate the community. “People get lost in the system,” Jacky Morales-Ferrand, housing director for the City of San Jose, told the Mercury News. “And, that’s actually one of the benefits of creating these interim sites, because as we create housing opportunities for people to move in, we know that we can connect them very quickly.” In total, the pilot program on Mabury Road cost roughly $2 million, a sum that includes the 40 volunteer-built cabins, site development, and building out the community’s various support structures. “It's a question of scale. It's a question of capacity. It’s a question of resolve, and so I just want you to know that we are resolved to scale programs like this,” said Newsom at the grand opening of the community. “The state vision to solve this crisis will be realized at the local level, project by project.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Berkeley approves plans for city-managed homeless encampment

Amid several proposals to temporarily house members of the Bay Area's homeless community (including one that would repurpose disused cruise ships into homeless housing), a recently approved plan for the city of Berkeley is finally moving forward. Councilperson Kate Harrison presented to Berkeley's City Council—and received voter approval for—a scheme for a city-run homeless encampment that would be able to house up to 50 residents at a time during its initial trial period. Harrison's proposal would require the construction of several wind-resistant tents and accompanying plumbing services, and would necessitate trash pickup to be coordinated by city employees. She then offered a parcel on University Avenue as a potential site for the encampment before emphasizing that there are many potential properties throughout Berkeley to begin the pilot program. The project as it's currently envisioned is in line with the Governor's recent executive order to develop vacant properties throughout California into sites for affordable housing. The plan received support from Moms 4 Housing lawyer Leah Simon-Weisberg and the nonprofit group East Bay Citizens For Action, and only received minor criticism from fellow councilmembers prior to its eventual approval. Councilmember Susan Wengraf, for instance, expressed her opinion that while a solution for the city's homeless shouldn't be further delayed, Harrison's proposal would require a great number of man-hours than the city is currently able to provide, while Lori Droste questioned the status of preexisting, unlicensed camps in the area if the plan were to go forward. “We’re all tired,” Harrison responded. “We need solutions tomorrow also, but we need solutions now.”

The Berkeley city staff will spend the next few months determining an ideal site for the project as well as the manufacturers for the tents. During the encampment’s trial run, the project is expected to operate for less than a year and will largely function as a means of protection for those in need against extreme outdoor temperatures during the winter months.

Placeholder Alt Text

Seattle debuts modular housing for homeless Native Americans

Eagle Village, a new pilot community in Seattle’s South of Downtown District, is the first transitional housing project in King County to go fully modular. At the heart of the community are six modular trailers, previously used to house transient Texan oil workers, that have been divvied up into a total of 24 self-contained, dorm-style living units. The units, each outfitted with a bathroom, kitchenette, and ample closet space, are geared to accommodate single-occupancy residents as well as couples and roommates. Pets are also allowed. Even more impressively, Eagle Village is the first transitional housing project anywhere to exclusively provide shelter and related services to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Pacific Islanders experiencing homelessness. Completed last October, the $3.3 million development is situated on a parcel owned by King County Metro that will eventually be redeveloped for other purposes. The village, which features a medicinal garden and drum circle, began welcoming its first residents weeks later. In total, Eagle Village has capacity for 31 full-time residents, all of whom, in addition to safe and secure housing, are provided with onsite support services from the Chief Seattle Club, the nonprofit spearheading the project alongside several county agencies. As NPR Seattle affiliate KUOW reported, 30 people, all of them trying to secure affordable housing of permanence in the near future, currently call Eagle Village home. Providing what Chief Seattle Club executive director Colleen Echohawk called “culturally responsible housing” is a challenge that’s somewhat unique to Seattle and King County, where there are an estimated 1,000 homeless people of Native descent. “We make up less than one percent of the total population and make up over 10 percent of our homeless population," Echohawk explained to KUOW. In a press release, King County executive Dow Constantine stressed the ongoing need to provide dignified housing to indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness:
“We know that people of color, and particularly Native Americans, are disproportionately represented in the homeless population, and we are committed to tackling that challenge. With our first completed modular housing project, we are partnering with the Chief Seattle Club to focus on providing safe housing and onsite services for urban Native residents. With Eagle Village, we are turning plans into action, and dreams into hope.”
While there currently aren't plans to expand Eagle Village at its current site, King County will develop other transitional housing communities in Seattle and beyond. Like Eagle Village, all of these future sites will revolve around modular living units once used to house oil workers in Houston. In addition to the six converted trailers now housing the residents of Eagle Village, King County has purchased another 14 Texas-sourced trailers for $90,000 each, with the goal of generating 75 new housing units—units that have the potential to make a world of difference to those who live in them, even if they’re only there a short spell.
Placeholder Alt Text

Governor Gavin Newsom proposes billion-dollar plan to alleviate California's homeless crisis

On January 7, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced his statewide initiative to resolve the homeless crisis. The plan calls for a $1.45 billion budget, $750 million of which is from taxpayer money that will be designated for supportive housing, while the remaining $700 million will go towards health-related expenses. “We have an unprecedented amount of investment, and with that, we want transparency and accountability,” Newsom later told KCRA in a televised interview. “We want to see a reduction in street population, we want more people rapidly rehoused, and we want [to provide] more access to behavioral health.” Newsom began a statewide tour on January 13 to speak with California's dispersed homeless population and local nonprofits to learn how best to spend the budget. “Californians have lots of compassion for those among us who are living without shelter,” said Newsom in a statement. “But we also know what compassion isn’t. Compassion isn’t allowing a person suffering a severe psychotic break or from a lethal substance abuse addiction to literally drift towards death on our streets and sidewalks.” The Governor also recently signed an executive order to invest in the search for vacant properties across California to develop them into affordable housing, with an emphasis on those next to highways, state roads, and other commonly-underdeveloped sites—although a recent raid on the nonprofit Moms4Housing in Oakland over squatting, complete with tanks, is seemingly at odds with this strategy. Though many of Newsom's plans for solving the homeless crisis were unsuccessful when serving as San Francisco's mayor from 2004-2011, the recent announcement is an opportunity for Newsom to focus his attention on a statewide level with a significantly increased budget. The plan comes shortly after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that 151,000 homeless people, nearly one-quarter of the nation's homeless population, live in the state. While the amount of homelessness has decreased in other parts of the country, the report explains, the population has increased by 16 percent in California. Homelessness has been a significant issue in California given the skyrocketing cost of housing, mixed with a staggering shortage of affordable housing, making the issue a priority among California voters.
Placeholder Alt Text

Perkins and Will proposes compact sleeping units for L.A.'s homeless

The Los Angeles office of Perkins and Will has set their sights on the smallest imaginable scale for a modular sleeping unit built for the city's growing homeless population. In response to the mayor's A Bridge Home initiative, a city-led project focusing on creating transitional emergency shelters, the firm's Innovation Incubator team designed the prefabricated Dome unit in an effort to offer a higher level of dignity and sophistication than typically found in U.S. shelters. "We want it to feel residential, not institutional," said Yan Krymsky, a design director at Perkins and Will, in a statement. "It sends a message that people care." Each Dome unit is seven feet wide and six feet deep to provide 42 square feet of space per person. It features a lockable wardrobe, a standard power outlet, a frame for a twin bed, an optional kennel area for a 30-pound pet, and an operable canvas tarp for privacy. Designed with low-cost, quality materials that make each unit feel like a temporary little home, the firm estimates that individually, they could cost as little as $4,749 to build. Locker fabrication company Shield has already been tapped to manufacture them. “Solid surface is low maintenance and resists scratching," the team said, "while wood accents give the unit a residential character." If desired, the units can be combined to allow couples or families to share a larger set together. According to Perkins and Will, the most challenging part of the Dome project was making the units feel dignified and structured when in use while at the same time, flexible enough to collapse for storage and redeployment across the city. A typical 53-foot-long flatbed truck, for instance, can carry up to 32 units when collapsed. A number of other Los Angeles-based firms have developed concepts for homeless housing alternatives, such as Brooks + Scarpa and Michael Maltzan Architecture, and several shelters have already been completed through the A Bridge Home program. As the city with the largest number of homeless residents in the United States, The Dome units present a potentially more expedient option for emergency shelter than other temporary housing structures currently proposed for the city. A prototype of a Dome unit is currently on display at the Architecture + Design Museum (A+D) in Los Angeles until January 12.
Placeholder Alt Text

An accessory dwelling unit conference in Portland pushes the typology forward

The biennial Build Small Live Large Summit launched in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, to help move the housing industry toward smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Originally organized under the auspices of city’s Department of Environmental Quality, past programs promoted tiny houses and accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The focus of this year’s event shifted to missing middle housing, reflecting another acute concern for many U.S. cities. “Everyone from every city is struggling to provide enough affordable housing and we all want to have a better approach to this problem,” said Rebecca Small, a planner at Metro, the regional agency that now convenes the event. The topic attracted a decidedly wonky audience of planners, but also drew builders, real estate agents, investors, developers, advocates, activists, and architects from across the country who are closely following recent legislation that lowers barriers to developing additional housing types on single-family lots. In August, Oregon passed a statewide bill that will allow the development of middle housing, defined as duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses, on single-family zoned lots by 2022. In October, California passed a suite of laws that go into effect in January 2020 that incentivize building ADUs, reduce restrictions for building them, and streamline the process. Rendering of a one bedroom gabled tiny home Build Small Live Large 2019 sessions covered financing and appraising ADUs, as well as strategies for passing state and local ordinances to encourage missing middle housing options. Panels mixed city planners, housing advocates, elected officials, architects, lenders, and developers who delved into the ramifications of the new code and zoning updates and explored housing models on the horizon to be reintroduced into many urban and not so urban regions. As Michelle Glass of the Rogue Action Center stressed, the perception of rural communities, such as those in Eastern Oregon, is that they’re still in the 1950s, but displacement as a result of affordability and accessibility is a very real issue there. Discussions around single room occupancy housing models, or SROs, highlighted how this once-common housing option has reemerged both as a way to help people transition from homelessness and as an affordable option for nomadic millennials as they move into and out of cities. Panelists also explored how using ADUs and cottage clusters gives the generation on the opposite end of the spectrum, baby boomers, a viable way to age in place or stay in their neighborhoods. Notably, Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law (2017), was the event’s keynote speaker. Rothstein drew parallels to the time after World War II when the homelessness crisis in the U.S. was comparable to today and noted how exclusionary zoning practices enacted then have resulted in deep economic disparity and segregation in the country. “If we abolish segregation in neighborhoods, the next day things wouldn’t look any different,” said Rothstein. Perhaps not overnight, but as new legislation takes effect along the West Coast and ripples out to cities such as Fayette, Arkansas, and Minneapolis, which are already updating their zoning regulations to encourage housing that creates more diverse, livable, walkable cities, the housing landscape may look very different by the next Build Small Live Large Summit.
Placeholder Alt Text

Seattle will shutter tiny house village after resident lockout

A tiny house village project in the Northlake neighborhood of Seattle went awry last month when employees from the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI) informed residents that the development would be shuttered by the end of the year. This shutdown comes seven months after the perimeter gates of the 19-bed village were locked by residents against the city and its contractors over fears of a takeover. This marks the second time the city has defunded a tiny house village program without providing an alternative housing solution for its formerly homeless residents. The village has been named Northlake and is internally organized by Nickelsville, a group of homeless and formerly homeless residents of the village. LIHI states that its members were gradually made to feel unwelcome in the village by members of Northlake; John Travena, a resident of the village, explained that “autonomy is very important,” and that its members have attempted to “control who comes in and goes out.” Sharon Lee, the executive director of LIHI, explained that her group “know[s] that there are fundamental differences that make it impossible for us to work together.” Many of the residents of Northlake are eager to keep the village in operation because it provides a positive, more independent alternative to the typical homeless shelter model. Village residents elect their leaders internally each week and have essentially run the property themselves by handling security, kitchen duties, and other operations as a community. The model is catching on in Seattle (albeit slowly), where residents can also host homeless members of the community in tiny homes built in their backyard. Though city spokesperson Will Lemke stated in a press release that the village will shut down on December 31st and be returned to Seattle City Light, the city’s publicly owned electric power utility, Council Member Kshama Sawant is currently making efforts to keep Northlake in operation while developing additional tiny home villages. Brooke Brod, a Northlake neighbor and member of the village’s advisory council, said that “all of us would be very sad to see the permit not renewed at Northlake,” and imagined that “for some folks at the city, the perspective is ‘this is a thorn in our side; it will go away if we don’t renew the permit.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Amazon is building a homeless shelter in its downtown Seattle headquarters

Amazon is building a homeless shelter inside its downtown Seattle headquarters. Eight floors of an upcoming office building will be home to the Mary’s Place Family Center early next year and will be able to house up to 275 guests per night. The Seattle Times reported that the tech giant has been working on the homeless housing project with its longtime community partner, Mary’s Place, for two years. Over 63,000 square feet of space within one of Amazon’s new corporate office buildings at Seventh Avenue and Blanchard Street is being built out for the local nonprofit. Not only will it house sleeping spaces for homeless families, the facility will also include an industrial kitchen where meals will be prepared for guests and 10 other Mary’s Place shelters in Kings County. The new shelter will also feature a health and legal clinic, a rec room, a rooftop terrace, and a diversion shelter to help homeless families in transition. Two of its floors will house 30 rooms for unhoused families with children under treatment for serious medical illnesses. On the seventh floor of the building, there will be space for Amazon employees to continue their volunteer work through Mary’s Place by offering coding courses, resume workshops, and reading lessons to kids.  Amazon has said it’s committed to paying for the family center’s rent, as well as all maintenance, utilities, and security costs over the next 10 years. In an interview with the Seattle Times, an Amazon real estate executive said the space will belong to Mary’s Place for as long as needed, but the nonprofit will be responsible for all operations, programming, and staff salaries. Yearly costs are estimated to be about $2 million. Since it began construction on its massive campus in Seattle nearly a decade ago, Amazon has had to repeatedly battle with the local government for more space. Advocating on behalf of community organizations like Mary’s Place is one way the company has tried to smooth things over with Seattle locals (other than pouring $1.5 million into last week's City Council race on behalf of pro-business candidates). In 2017, Mary’s Place moved into the former Travelodge hotel building that Amazon bought for its future downtown expansion and in June, Amazon pledged to annually donate $8 million to fight homelessness and provide low-cost housing surrounding its campuses in both Seattle and Arlington, Virginia.  The building that houses Mary’s Place Family Center is on track to receive LEED Gold certification. An opening date for the facility has not been announced. 
Placeholder Alt Text

West Palm Beach deploys "Baby Shark" against the homeless

In a strange attempt to deter homeless people from camping out at a waterfront pavilion (and a great example of hostile urbanism), authorities in West Palm Beach, Florida have been blasting children’s songs from a public address system on loop overnight. The Lake Pavilion, which is adjacent to a public park and a promenade facing the Intracoastal Waterway, regularly hosts private events that rake in around $240,000 each year. The low-slung building has floor-to-ceiling windows and an expansive terrace that make it particularly popular with guests, especially as a wedding venue. West Palm Beach Director of Parks and Recreation Leah Rockwell told the Palm Beach Post that playing such recent hits as "Baby Shark" and "Raining Tacos" on a continuous loop is necessary to keep the event space “clean and open” for paying customers.

The decision to weaponize music against those who sleep on the property highlights Palm Beach County’s relatively pronounced homelessness problem. West Palm Beach alone accounts for a large portion of the county’s 1,400 homeless people, whose plight has been exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing in the Greater Miami Area. According to a report published by the Miami Urban Future Initiative, the metropolitan region’s enormous housing stock of 2.5 million units consists primarily of high-priced condominiums and single-family homes. Greater Miami, which encompasses urban centers like Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, ranks among the top ten most expensive rental markets in the nation.

While hostile architecture is nothing new, West Palm Beach’s deployment of "Baby Shark" against the homeless has generated considerable pushback from both locals and observers across the country. Critics argue that the city should focus its resources on support for the unsheltered, but Rockwell insists that the music is only a temporary solution. Once the park’s hours are finalized, she says, the municipal government will be better equipped to control who is at the pavilion during nighttime hours. It is unclear, however, how targeting the homeless for trespassing will resolve the broader issues at hand. It's also worth noting that this type of sonic warfare is nothing new; retail stores and local governments across the U.S. have been playing high-pitched squeals that only young people can hear to deter loitering teens for decades. Another place music is played all night long to deter sleeping? Guantanamo Bay, where the government has reportedly used non-stop rock, metal, and children's song playlists to keep detainees up for days on end.