By Sandra Gramley, AIA, LEED ap BD+C & Keiko Newton
Our moderate climate and high cost of housing result in San Diego grappling with a large homelessness problem. A 2020 count found nearly 5,000 people experiencing homelessness in the City of San Diego. Platt/Whitelaw has been helping both the City of San Diego and the City of Chula Vista address ways to provide temporary bridge shelters.
The City of San Diego uses a “Housing First” model of addressing homelessness, rooted in the national model of the same name. Simply put, the approach is to provide housing as quickly as possible, with supportive services as needed.
The City operates additional programs to help people find more permanent housing solutions as well, but according to the San Diego Housing Commission’s website, “Temporary Bridge Shelters provide a safe place to stay – or a “bridge” – for individuals or families who are enrolled in a permanent housing program, but have not yet moved into a permanent unit while they await permanent housing placement.”
San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer first announced these shelters on September 13, 2017. They included:
- 16th Street and Newton Avenue, operated by Alpha Project and opened on December 1, 2017
- 2801 ½ Sports Arena Boulevard, operated by Veterans Village of San Diego and opened on December 22, 2017
- 14th and Commercial Street, operated by Father Joe’s Villages and opened on January 3, 2018
Since that time, the City has continued this commitment to providing bridge shelters. Platt/Whitelaw had the opportunity to work on a new shelter at the 17th and Imperial Avenue, identifying solutions for site selection and configuration; stormwater management; programming; and more.
This year’s pandemic has provided new challenges for Housing First.
As noted on the San Diego Housing Commission’s website, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, in partnership with the region’s cities, the County of San Diego, San Diego Housing Commission and homeless service providers, has taken an additional step to help those experiencing homelessness in an especially challenging time. The Task Force developed a new, system-wide, coordinated plan to further help sheltered and unsheltered individuals remain healthy during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The City once again retained Platt/Whitelaw to provide architectural services necessary to make this additional step happen.
Dubbed “Operation Shelter to Home,” Golden Hall (where Platt/Whitelaw is involved), as well as the San Diego Convention Center, are temporarily repurposed as shelters in a broader regional approach to address homelessness during this state of emergency . These facilities are also absorbing overflow from other shelters that had to reduce capacity in order to comply with COVID-19 health guidelines.
This regional cooperation demonstrated through Operation Shelter to Home is evidenced in other ways, too. In addition to the shelters at 17th and Imperial and at Golden Hall, Platt/Whitelaw is working with the City of Chula Vista to site a Sprung structure near Otay Valley Regional Park that Chula Vista received from the City of San Diego. A Sprung structure is a high-performance tension fabric building – the same kind of structure used at 17th and Imperial in the City of San Diego.
With each temporary shelter project, Platt/Whitelaw is working with an existing facility, whether it’s a Sprung structure or, in the case of Golden Hall, a 3,200-seat indoor arena.
In these cases, architectural work has much to do with ensuring code compliance, including ingress and egress requirements; solving siting issues; and managing stormwater runoff. The architect also has to plan for ancillary facilities that are necessary but may not already exist. These can include showers, restrooms, laundry facilities, potable water, storage, trash and more.
Many times, these extra services will be housed in trailers, which involves siting them on the property and planning for power, water and sewer hookups.
Security is another consideration. Golden Hall may have required special security measures when it was used a meeting and event venue, however, a shelter operates around the clock and requires security measures that do the same. The design team also needs to think about shelter clients with disabilities and make sure they can access all parts of the shelter and associated services.
Meal service at a shelter can require some creativity. For the projects our firm has worked on, Platt/Whitelaw wasn’t required to design a commercial kitchen. For the shelters at Golden Hall and Chula Vista, the cities are bringing meals to the site, which means the design team must plan for dining space and possibly meal trucks.
Whether deemed “emergency” or not, shelter projects usually need to happen quickly. Close coordination and prompt responses can literally keep people from being left out in the cold. Our staff keeps careful watch over deadlines and communication channels to make sure all architectural direction and information is delivered on time.
We’re also quick to come up with creative ideas to turn problems into solutions. When the City of Chula Vista’s vision for vehicle circulation didn’t match up with code requirements, we worked with the city to reconfigure a property boundary with an adjacent parcel the city also owned.
At the 17th and Imperial Avenue shelter, the stormwater treatment equipment couldn’t be entirely accommodated on site, so our design team devised a way to create an underground treatment station, further down the street.
Most of our firm’s work involves designing places that serve communities, from schools to water treatment facilities, libraries, fire stations and more. Temporary shelters are one of the most essential of all essential services, and it is work we are proud to perform.
To learn more about the Housing First homeless assistance approach, visit National Alliance to End Homelessness.
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