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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.

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.


michaelbicycle on July 24, 2018:

What about homeless [veterans in particular] that don't want assistance- a friend at VA has told me many don't- what about them?

L.Gordon on January 26, 2018:

I like the idea but when you stated "self-sustaining " I envisioned something more along the line of a rural "green" community for them. A community outside of the city that would be sustained by its residents through "green" housing, farming, and mandatory contributions directly from each resident. Basically allowing them to start from scratch and contribute to their own rehabilitation. Rather than paying rent for their stay they put in work and contribute to maintaining their own community. The work would be shared allowing for the opportunity for outside work where money can be earned as well to assist in their reentry into the city life. Taking it rural may also allow for those battling toxic behavior or practices to step away from the city that may be the source. With the addition of programs (work, mental health, education, and chemical dependency). This concept would thus work similarly to rehab as well. Just a thought.

K. Corin on September 29, 2014:


This is exactly what I have been thinking of for the past month! But to add to the idea, my mother and I thought of doing some combining. In fact, we have been talking about starting a sustainable shelter that cares for both people and animals. However, we realized something. Did you know that there are no shelters that combine humans and animals? They are all separate. It's strange that this hasn't been done before. Now there might be some regulations against this that I am not aware of, if so, then I would love to know. But if it were possible, I think it would be a great idea.

Moreover, and as we continued to gab excessively, we wondered if it was possible to have the animal portion of the shelter run by the homeless; it could be (sort of like) their work program. The thing is, and which many people (scientists, therapists, doctors, etc.) already know, animals have a great curative quality. They can be used for therapy and rehabilitation, stress management, and just plain old fashioned comfort. We thought, what better way for the homeless to begin to feel worth about themselves than to help those in a similar situation as themselves. Caring for an animal means learning to care for yourself. You cannot do one without the other. And the biggest thing that most homeless individuals lack, is self-worth. So, let them find care and comfort in animals, and the animals find care and comfort in them.

There is a possibility for abuse in this situation. That might be why currently there are no combination shelters. However, every situation has this potential. Unless someone is willing to try it, there's no way of knowing if it could work or not.

Ashlyn Haskins on March 12, 2014:


I too have had this idea, actually this exact idea. Is it possible for us to exchange emails. I'm currently a student at UCR and I'm looking to see if there is grant money for something like this. I think with the right proposal there's a possibility we could receive funding or at least get others to hear about. I haven't found too much info or even any existing programs like this online and I really think if implemented and carried out right it could have a beneficial effect on the growing numbers of homeless out there.

Thank you for giving me hope.

Heather Baker (author) from Florida on February 13, 2014:


Thank you so much for the feedback... and even the ideas! I have to say I am unsure of how to get the funding, though I have some ideas such as my own church, which does a lot of non-profit work but has no shelter program, which I think they might really go for, since they do pretty much everything else here and abroad with mission work. My big problem is that I am really set in my ways and ideas and they might not quite agree with me on all aspects.

Debbie on February 13, 2014:

I am trying to start a homeless shelter in our town. It is very hard with all the zoning regulations. I want to help homeless families and individuals. Many families have had their houses foreclosed or their house may have burned. I want to have dorm rooms that they can stay in until they can get back on their feet. This will be a handup and not a bandaid. We will help them set goals to become self sufficient. We will have financial counseling to help them learn to manage their money, family counseling, or whatever they need to help them overcome homelessness. We want to help them get their GED if they don't have a high school diploma. I want to be able to have a garden that they can work in and sell vegetables at the local farmers market. I would also like to have a coffee shop or something in part of the shelter to help sustain it. I toured Thistle Farms in Nashville and they make candles, body lotions, and lip balms there. The ladies are able to work there. They also have a sewing studio and paper making business. Some places have thrift stores to help sustain them. One place even has a catering business. I know it will take a lot to get this going. My problem is that I can't seem to get churches and people in the community to work together. Everyone wants to do their own thing and get the glory for it. If we would all work together we could accomplish so much. I know this can work. Heather I love your idea.

Heather Baker (author) from Florida on January 11, 2014:

The rest of my readers,

I apologize for the fit pitching provided in the below comment. I do believe that comments that just tear down ideas for the heck of it because it does not agree with your views are just there to start fights. After this comment is posted I would appreciate it if nobody were to give this person our time or energy because it is flaming plain and simple. I will not tolerate flaming, it is not constructive criticism and I have no desire to see this trash on something that I have spent days researching and going to school to gain knowledge so that I can implement this idea.

To Patriot Quest,

While I first hit the deny button because your comment was unconstructively negative that I did not want to have you starting fights on a hub meant to share ideas on how to at least stem the problem, I felt I should comment back. Yes, homeless people got there some way some how, but it is not our place to judge them for how they got there, but to offer them a hand in finding a solution to their problem. I have a problem with someone who thinks it is okay to throw any person by the wayside. I guess I was just raised better than to believe I am better than anyone else for any reason. Now, for future reference, I do not mind a well put together comment but do not come on my pages and try to start another fight, you will be marked as spam from that point. This comment was far from constructive and I will not have you starting fights with my other readers because you want to feel all high and mighty. If it is not constructive and you are just trying to put me and/ or my idea down for trying to come up with some sort of solution, then you're not welcome to post to my stuff. Do NOT do it again. If you had ever been in their shoes then you would understand that the places that we have are obviously not enough, so if you cannot even try to put yourself into those shoes, do not comment. Thank you very much, if it's not constructive don't waste my time or the time of my readers who feel just as strongly as I do about this and things like this.

Heather Baker

Wayne Joel Bushong from America on January 11, 2014:

You say you welcome all comments but I commented and you never posted it??? Its nice you guys have these giant bleeding hearts for these people...............we already have places for them, hud housing, shelters, food stamps, medical treatment, VA hospitals, churches, and on and on and on..........when will the left stop looking at the outside and say to themselves OMG this man or woman needs the help of others......instead walk up and talk to these people and DISCOVER how and WHY they are in this shape! ......when you learn many are just low life bums, drunks,druggies, lazy, excons, you might begin to change, yes a tiny handful may have mental issues, or sincere plain bad luck in their lives, those last few need our help for sure!.............and we already have it in place...........hey 47 MILLION democrats on welfare can't be wrong!

Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on January 06, 2014:

Great ideas, Heather. This is great for the homeless veterans who deserve so much more from our government for their sacrifice and also for all of our homeless. Too often our governments fall into the same stale ideas about problems and do not think creatively outside of the box. We need to exhaust all avenues to help the people of our society who need it the most. especially those who have sacrificed for us.

Heather Baker (author) from Florida on January 02, 2014:

Thank you, RTalloni, I welcome all comments. I just thought that some might think it was harsh to charge rent because rent is one reason a lot of people end up homeless. Though rent would not be charged from day one, but due after work done to meet the rental amount, but the layout would be more along the lines of small (from studio to small two bedroom for families) apartments rather than the typical room full of beds layout like you see in a typical shelter, which provides a bit more safety for those utilizing the shelter.

RTalloni on January 02, 2014:

This draft model of self-sustaining homeless shelters has a little different perspective than I thought it would from the title, but that's not because the title is deceiving, it was just my first impression on reading it. I thought it would be totally focused on shelters that are maintained by the homeless themselves working to help each other.

You've incorporated some ideas that are already being successfully utilized, but I haven't thought through the possibilities of self-sustaining shelters using alternative power sources. Looking at solutions to the road blocks in implementing those possibilities seems like a good place to start.

I'm wondering about a couple of things mentioned here. Why would anyone think that it is harsh for residents to pay room and board from the work programs? It's proven that homeless people who want to better their circumstances always welcome such an opportunity. For those who could contribute but, in fact, just want a hand out, teaching them to take responsibility is an important part of helping them.

Also, I don't know why we should ask a therapist or any other professional to work for free. Again, examining the roadblocks to this tactic could be a good beginning. The first thought that comes to mind is that professionals who try to do free work often find their efforts to help are stripped of any measurable power.

I don't know anyone who wouldn't want to see a world where there are no homeless, but the problems for homeless peoples are often so unique that finding a complete solution in all cases is not possible for any person or organization, including the government. However, discussions are important and it will be interesting to review responses to this hub. As well, I realize you may refine some of the ideas in this rough draft so I'll try to check back.

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