Category I: Homeless Assistance Center

According to the US Depar tment of Housing and Urban Development, there were 664,414 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons nationwide on a single night in early 2008. This number suggests that 1 in every 190 persons in the United States used the shelter system at some point in that period. Homelessness in the U.S. is increasing rapidly in both the number without shelter and severity of their condition. The cause of homelessness is the scarcity of low-cost housing, lack of job skills, alcohol and drug dependency, and domestic violence. Offering design solutions to meet the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing is much more complex than one would first anticipate.

The new composite por trait of a homeless person is evolving from the single older male of the 1970s toward a person who is younger, better educated, and often accompanied by family. At 39%, children were the fastest growing segment of the homeless population in a national survey conducted in 2003. Programming for these diverse demographics is difficult. Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of shelter design is fully understanding a homeless person’s point of view. The typical homeless shelter resident is undergoing a crisis that has resulted in a change of lifestyle and the loss of familiar surroundings. This experience can effect a dramatic change in a person’s worldview, impacting their needs and priorities. Therefore, designing shelter includes services such as social worker counseling, health care, nursery care, literacy programs, and job readiness training. They also include other public functions, bringing privacy, security, and dignity as major concerns that must be considered.

Category I, Homeless Assistance Center calls for students to:
1. Develop a program for a homeless assistance center that acts as a bridge to preparing residents for reentrance into society; and
2. Execute the program in the design of a facility on an urban site of the student and/or faculty’s choosing.

The Homeless Assistance Center should be sited on a city lot to be chosen by the faculty sponsor or the student. The criteria for site selection include the following:

Size: the site should be no larger than a single city block
Context: the site should be located in an easily accessible area of the city
Access: the site should have access to public transpor tation such as light rail, commuter rail, subway, or bus

Students and/or faculty need to develop a program for a homeless assistance center that acts as a bridge to prepare residents for reentrance into society. Specific requirements for your city, site, and environment need to be incorporated into the final design. The Homeless Assistance Center should be between 75,000 – 100,000 s.f. of interior space. Following is a list of program spaces to consider:

  • medical services
  • job placement (community engagement)
  • social worker counseling
  • kitchen and dining facilities
  • lodging quarters
  • classrooms
  • security
  • health and mental services
  • recreation
  • exercise
  • worship
  • exterior spaces 

In addition, here is a list of references on homelessness, how homeless centers can greatly impact lives, organizations dedicated to helping the less for tunate, along with examples of successful built projects. It is the responsibility of the student designer and/or faculty to determine the programmatic spaces based on their individual understanding, research, and approach to the project.


  • National Coalition for the Homeless (2006). How many people experience homelessness? NCH Fact Sheet #2. Retrieved 6/19/06 from
  • National Coalition for the Homeless (2006). Who is homeless? NCH Fact Sheet #3. Retrieved 6/19/06 from
  • Ray, P., & Anderson, S. (2000). The cultural creatives: How 50 million people are changing the world. NY : Three Rivers Press.
  • U.S. Conference of Mayors (2005). Hunger and homelessness survey: A status report on hunger and homelessness in America’s cities. Retrieved 1/15/06 from
Web References
  • Architecture for Humanity
  • Design Corps
  • Design Response
  • Philanthropy by Design
  • National Law Center on Homelessness and Pover ty
Journal References
  • “Homeless Shelters Affect Children” —Journal of Pediatric Nursing
  • “Relationship Between Fear of Crime and Suppor tive Housing”—Journal of Urban Affairs
  • “Crowded Residential Conditions Have Negative Effects”—Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
  • “Housing Solutions for the Chronically Mentally Ill” —Housing and Society
  •  “Space and Color Affects Cooperation Among Children”—Environment and Behavior
  • “Factors Affecting Fear in Public Spaces”—Environment and Behavior
  • “Moveable Panels Offer Benefits to Assisted Living Residents”—Housing and Society
  • “Dual Diagnosis Treatment and Psychosocial Functioning”—Addictive Behaviors
  • “Environmental Design Can Lower Crime” —American Journal of Public Health
  • “Impact of Age, Ethnicity, and Pover ty on Children’s Home Experience”—Child Development
  • “Improving Working Women’s Hostels” —Journal of Architectural and Planning Research
Design References
  • Davis, S. (2005). Designing for the homeless: Architecture that works. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Rober tson, M., & Greenblatt, M. (Eds.). (1992). Homelessness: A national perspective. NY : Plenum Press.
Case Studies
  • Stanley TIgerman – Chicago Mission
  • Overland Par tners – Bridge Project


Refer to the International Building Code and the local zoning ordinance for information on parking requirements, height restrictions, setbacks, easements, flood, egress, and fire containment. Accessibility guidelines need to be followed; refer to the Americans with Disabilities Act, along with the principals of Universal Design.

The design project must be conceived in structural steel construction. A strategy should be considered that evaluates a method for taking advantage of steel’s proper ties and characteristics in order to conceptualize and propose a critical evaluation of the design solution.