Witness Trauma-Informed Design

Building shelters as cheaply as possible is way more expensive in the end.

Out of kindness, have you asked a homeless man if he knew that shelters were available? What was his reply? That he’d been to the shelter and would rather be on the street?

Being in a homeless shelter is often worse than being in a busy emergency room, but unlike an emergency room, people in a shelter are traumatized in ways that are not easy to identify or treat.

Los Angeles is trying something new, and so far the results are very promising. They’re calling it “trauma-informed design.” In essence, it proves that building homeless shelters (and other institutional buildings) as cheaply as humanly possible turns out to be way more expensive (not to mention cruel) in the end.

Tenants have cycled through institution after institution: temporary housing, overcrowded clinics, shelters, addiction recovery centers, prison—places typically designed via budget-driven utilitarianism. They’re also systems that didn’t work; people fell through the cracks and ended up on the streets. Familiar elements like dark corridors, stark fluorescent lighting or worn, anonymous spaces augur the same failures. Services for one person with multiple disorders living on the streets of Los Angeles amounted to $60,456 per year. By contrast, the average cost for the Trust to house and serve one supportive-housing tenant…is only $13,000 per year.

Another triumph for common sense and decency. To learn more, see the piece about trauma-informed design at Next City.

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