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A Rough Draft Model of Self-Sustaining Homeless Shelters

Homeless veterans should never be treated as if they have outlived their usefulness.  These are people who have earned our respect, not our disdain or pity.

Homeless veterans should never be treated as if they have outlived their usefulness. These are people who have earned our respect, not our disdain or pity.

Why I Came Up With This Idea

One day, as I was sitting in a grocery store parking lot waiting for them to open, I was smoking a cigarette (I have since quit that nasty habit) and a group of three homeless people walked up and asked for one that they could share. I felt bad, they didn't have anything. Who was I to tell them no to something else that was just a simple comfort that I could afford to share?

I gave them each a cigarette, and we spoke while we waited for them to open the store so that they could go in and purchase their own pack. As I spoke, two of them, the males of the group, were telling me and my roommate about their time in Iraq with the Army and Marines and how they were now homeless.

Finding out that these men were veterans struck a painful chord with me. My father, before I was born, was in the Marines, having left after a botched surgery on his legs that made him unable to run, and therefore left on a medical discharge. What hurt me was the thought that at any time, a bad turn of events, that could be my much older and more disabled father.

I have a problem when the American government does not take care of the veterans that secure all of our freedoms. These men, like the ones I met outside of that store, those like my father, signed a contract that literally puts their lives at risk to protect everyone else in this country, and did so freely. They have always inspired me and brought great admiration and gratitude to anyone in a military uniform.

I live in a town with an Air Force base, I was in Air Force JROTC in high school, and I was raised in a family full of pretty much every military branch available to the United States. I have great respect for the military and speaking to these men, who held on to such a great sense of humor and who actually spoke to someone, only reinforced how necessary it has become to raise awareness and to do more to bring these really great people off of the streets and help them to bring themselves out of a bad situation and to make their lives better.

When I say "rehabilitation" I do not necessarily mean from drugs or alcohol, though it could be a goal to add on to later versions of this idea. Rehabilitation means more in the physical and mental realm of the things that could be contributing to their homelessness.

I want to see a world where there is no homelessness, which means that this kind of shelter could be applied to any situation, but the idea originally stemmed from this encounter with these really great guys.

The Basic Idea

The basic idea of the self-sustaining homeless shelter seems a bit out there, but it can be a workable idea.

Alternative Power Sources Such as Solar and Wind

Instead of running the power on a place like this on the city grid, alternative power sources should be used, it would lower the number of cash donations needed to keep the shelter up and running, though the initial cost can be high.

An idea I had for powering a shelter of this size is a combination of alternative energy sources. To mesh together a power grid with a combination of solar, and something like hydro or wind power, would be an expensive initial investment, but in the long run would be a far less expensive means of keeping residents comfortable with consistent, stored power from solar cells and windmills or a hydropower station.

Geothermal Wells for Heating and Cooling Purposes

Another way to make this a consistently comfortable living situation for the people using these shelters would be to use geothermal wells for heating and cooling purposes, rather than to use the stored power to keep the residents comfortable for the proper season.

Well Water for Clean Running Water Whenever Possible

Anyone who knows about well water knows that it is typically cleaner than city water and that it is actually far less expensive than working on city water. While the pumps do run on electricity, since the shelter would be run on alternative power, it would cost a finite amount, at worst, to allow residents to shower regularly.

Individual Housing Space For Each Person/Family Unit

Something I have toyed with but would limit the availability of space for the residents comes from the absolute horror stories I have heard about crowded spaces with row after row of beds and no space to safely store personal items, and no space to keep themselves safe. Many people who have been in a normal homeless shelter will tell you about having their stuff stolen, or being attacked, sometimes sexually. The basic setup for a shelter offers little in the way of privacy and safety for the residents. It is beyond dangerous for women, much less ones with children, who are more vulnerable in that kind of environment than an adult.

Work Programs to Pay for Rent and Help Residents Save Money

While some of you may be thinking I have lost my mind, one way to help these facilities become self-sustaining is finding a way to employ the residents. Unless they are disabled, it would be a way for them to feel like they are able to support themselves while they are using the facility to get back on their feet.

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There are countless jobs required to keep a basic everyday shelter running: Laundry services, intake, and kitchen are just a couple of the jobs that are required to run just a normal shelter. This shelter will have much more to it than that, so it can give the residents a chance to build job skills that can actually be used in a resume as employment.

These work programs would work towards actually giving these people gainful employment while they are there. The basic idea behind this is to allow the residents to garden their own foods. All of their vegetables can be grown and harvested to feed themselves and a surplus amount beyond what will be needed by the residents to be sold in farmers' markets, or even to present them with the chance to sell the food direct from the garden.

As well as edible foods, they can grow flowering plants and houseplants to sell to customers. This would cut down immensely on the money needed to feed the residents while giving them a chance to work and make some money towards finding a home of their own in the future. This is just one idea for various work programs for these shelters.

While the goal is generally to be fully self-sustaining, some purchases of meats would have to be done outside of the shelter, since most cities don't allow the raising of livestock within city limits.

Residents Pay Rent From Earnings in Work Programs

While this seems a little bit harsh, this will help them to learn to budget how much they need to work, while the rates won't be quite as high as normal apartments, it will give them the skills to budget for their expenses such as bills before they budget for the not exactly necessaries.

Now, with the work programs, the rent will be automatically deducted, with an invoice from the shelter to each of them describing any charges such as rent, incurred every month. As well as this, they will always have the opportunity to work and make money beyond their rent and other shelter related bills so that they have the ability to save money while residing in the shelter for when they leave.

There Is a Cut Off Date for Non-Disabled Residents

Due to the lack of space, there has to be a limit on time spent in the shelter for non-disabled residents. This would be a few months to allow for residents to save money, find work, and find a suitable home to go to once they leave the program. This program is not designed to be the forever home for a resident or family of residents, just to be a stepping stone to a forever home.

This image from a fabric shelter website shows a slight variation on current bed layouts for homeless shelters.  Typically the beds would span the floor, no privacy or security while you sleep, which creates a danger to those sleeping there.

This image from a fabric shelter website shows a slight variation on current bed layouts for homeless shelters. Typically the beds would span the floor, no privacy or security while you sleep, which creates a danger to those sleeping there.

How This Kind of Shelter Can Be of Help More Than Normal Shelters

This kind of shelter can be designed to offer therapies of many sorts to help the disabled. These shelters could offer physical therapy for the physically disabled, psychological services to veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or someone who suffers from depression. This kind of facility can also offer occupational and speech therapy to homeless children who have a need for extra assistance in these areas, or to adults who might need them.

Instead of just handling the issue of homelessness, we need to address the issues that cause homelessness to solve the issue. For safety purposes, regular psychological evaluations of residents could be requested so that the staff can have the ability to pinpoint emotional distress from the loss of a safe home and the trauma of having to live on the streets.

Yes, these therapists would likely have to work pro bono, but their hours worked for free, I'm sure, would be tax-deductible. Taking care of the problems mentally, physically, and emotionally can help to get these people into stable homes and keep them from repeating the patterns, or situations, the landed them in the street to begin with.

Later on down the line, there could be an option for residents to choose assistance in obtaining GEDs if they have not already gotten them, or assistance enrolling in college or trade schools to help them get a career, but there would have to be more funding for that beyond initial set up costs.

As well as all of this, because of the lower operating costs because of the green options used in helping to power these shelters, the staff would be able to offer more help with the money that is saved by the use of alternative power sources and the growing of food on-site rather than purchasing the food from stores and food banks.

This being a rough draft of sorts, there are things that can be changed and can be manipulated to save more money, or that can be changed due to a lack of feasibility.

There is a level of danger to residents of normal homeless shelters.  The model I have presented above can be used to lower the danger to residents.

There is a level of danger to residents of normal homeless shelters. The model I have presented above can be used to lower the danger to residents.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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