The Homeless Shift Project is a grassroots initiative to create a positive, measurable difference in the condition of homelessness in New York City and beyond. Like many rural and urban areas throughout the globe today, New York City experiences exponentially high rates of homelessness. This is especially exacerbated by the challenges posed by the current economic climate and the scarcity of affordable, healthful housing within the city.
In closely examining contemporary homelessness in New York City, as well as the diverse models of aid currently in place, it is evident that the provision of shelter in and of itself is not a sustainable solution. Rather, to provide realistic responses for ending homelessness, the contributing causes of the problem must also be addressed as a priority. This project was created as a community partnership that would examine how homelessness is approached within the local community and which would develop new, sustainable and replicable models of engaging homelessness and human needs.
This project began as a community partnership with a shelter that serves homeless women with a history of mental illness and substance abuse. Through giving their homeless clients access to sustainable, affordable housing, comprehensive health and social services, and opportunities for personal growth, this shelter is one of the highest-ranking shelters in New York City. However, the New York City Shelter System is greatly challenged by the rate of “recidivism,” which is defined as when someone is placed within housing but later returns to the shelter system.
Some of the barriers that are identified as linked to recidivism have included minimal to no skills for daily living, such as cooking or managing finances, and very negative experiences living with others. As a result, many women often turn down shared housing opportunities and wait for one where they can live on their own. Unfortunately, these opportunities are scarce in New York City. In order to address this challenge, many interventions have been adopted to promote and maintain wellness and Critical Time Intervention and Relapse Prevention as a case management model that identifies and utilizes various levels of support. Through this project, we have built upon these practices and identified how design advocacy can be incorporated to further strengthen these goals.
To target the barriers linked to recidivism, we developed an “apartment prototype” to be built within the existing shelter. The women will live in this space for +/- 3 months in small groups directly before moving out into their housing placement. The apartment will act as a teaching and learning space for the women to strengthen their skills for daily living and gain experience in effective, responsible problem solving in order to reduce the quantity and severity of setbacks or challenges they will face while living independently. The model apartment will also give the women the opportunity to see the positive aspects of living with another person and encourage them to take advantage of shared housing, both as an economically viable option and as an opportunity to develop an additional support network within their new home environment. Finally, the apartment seeks to reconnect the women with a sense of permanence and “home,” and provides them with a space in which they can learn to make adjustments to their immediate environment to create a space that matches and supports their goals for their new life beyond the shelter.
This “model apartment,” in addition to the pilot program to be built at a local shelter, is a replicable prototype designed to be easily modified to serve the diverse homeless populations throughout New York City (and beyond).
Links and Captions:
© Emily Sprague, © Shannon Beck, © Sara Bayer (as noted)
© WKSHP (renderings)
All Rights Reserved
Date(s): 2008 to present
Client: A local women's shelter, Homeless populations of New York City and beyond
Concept/Lead Designer(s): Emily Sprague
Project Designer(s): Shannon Beck, Sara Bayer
Additional Consultants: Rigoberto Almaguer, Lisa Trub, Brooke Smith, Becky Labov, and other AFHny volunteers