Just Dreams?

Posted: April 21, 2007 in Bureauacracy, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Money

This past week I met with Chris Harai – an architect major at Cal Poly University, here in San Luis Obispo.

Suckerfish producer, Mary Garcia-Lemus – who also happens to be a Professor at the University – had given me his e-mail address because, as part of his senior year academic project, Chris had decide to design a homeless shelter.

Mary, knowing that when it comes to the plight of the homeless, I am always at the ready to put my two cents in, thought that it would be good if Chris and I met.  

Like most human beings, I have my own set of pre-conceptions about certain things. In my mind, I imagined that an architect major would be more inclined to design something more grandiose – like a high-rise apartment complex; an expansion bridge or a major shopping center – especially since the design would be a part of his overall scholastic grade.

That he would choose to design something as humble – and much needed – as a homeless shelter intrigued me, to say the least. And, I knew straightaway that I had to meet this young man.

After the exchange of a few e-mails, a day and time were set – which is how I found myself sitting across from him at one of the outdoor tables at Monterey Street Expresso this past Wednesday morning.

Thinking that Chris’ design was for a "traditional" homeless shelter, I began by telling him what I felt would create a less institutionalized version of what a homeless shelter currently is. Then, as Chris began to outline his design, my mind went into overdrive.

Let me backtrack a bit…

In early March of this year, at the reception for the premier showing of the documentary film Suckerfish, I had been speaking with a woman named Katie. I had remarked, how nationwide, there were a myriad of rehab centers for people who had alcohol and/or drug addictions and were there to help them break their addictions and transition back into mainstream society. My lament was that there were really no such facilities to help homeless people transition back into mainstream society.

It was – and still is – my belief that such facilities would be far more beneficial at helping the homeless than the current type of homeless support service shelters.

Such "homeless transitional" facilities wouldn’t be a free ride. They would require the homeless person to put forth effort on their own behalf. The facility would be there as a type of stepping stone. I would provide such services as job training, financial planning and management classes and, provide low cost and affordable housing. Obviously, such a facility wouldn’t cater to every homeless person – but it would certainly be a way to help those homeless people who truly wanted to help themselves.

So imagine my surprise this past Wednesday morning as Chris began to outline his design and it turned out to be, not a homeless shelter in the traditional sense, but the type of homeless facility that I had been talking to Katie about just a half dozen weeks or so prior.

Chris’ design was one of both beauty and functionality.

As he continued to outline the design, in my mind’s eye I could actually visualize the building; I could hear the sounds of people moving about the facility; I could see homeless people finding a way to become part of society again; I could see homeless people finding a new sense of self-worth.

I recall, toward the end of our meeting I asked Chris: "Is something like this do-able? I mean, can something like this actually be built?" To my lasting delight he said yes. He admitted that he hadn’t done an analysis of what such a project would cost, but it was something that could actually be built.

I’m not sure what a facility of this nature would cost to build, nor what it would cost annually to run. But, I keep thinking of how much money our nation spends each year on quite of number of things. A facility of this kind would certainly be worth the investment.

For example:

  • Our country is currently spending something like 30 billion dollars a month to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • In 2005, we spent 27.4 billion in foreign aid.
  • In 1985, the United States allocated $2.8 billion dollars to build an underwater tunnel to connect one side of Boston Harbor with the other side. As of 2006, over $14.6 billion taxpayers’ dollars have been spent. The tunnel leaks like a sieve because of the use of sub-standard materials and shoddy workmanship.

And the list goes on and on.

Perhaps the money would have been better spent giving some homeless people a chance at the American dream…

I hope that one day, a facility like the one that Chris has designed becomes a reality. I know of quite a few people right now who could use such a place to finally get out of homelessness…

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