Innovations from Afar

Innovations from Afar

cdicTHE CALGARY DROP-IN CENTRE   is a jaw-droppingly impressive facility in Canada that I stumbled upon a decade ago, and which has only become more impressive since. My introduction to the program was a visit to the CDIC primary shelter building – a first-rate, multi-story shelter that manages to genuinely respectfully serve 1,000 clients a night, with layer upon layer of enhancements far beyond what most agencies can bring into being. The first floor offers wet shelter. The second floor, dry shelter. The top floor, small dorm rooms. They have a library, woodshop, computer lab, clothing, commercial laundry facilities and a full-scale restaurant. That’s just for starters. They opened satellite shelters across town. They then realized they needed permanent conventional housing for their elderly population—so they bought an apartment building, fixed it up, and made apartments available for pennies on the dollar. Nice apartments, customized for clients. The list goes on and on… (One building they were planning, the Bridge, is pictured above.) if you’re looking for model programs, this is one to consider!

HOPE FOR RESTORATION is a California-based group that pulled together an impressive library of homelessness-related documents–handy if you’re looking for all sorts of related documents.

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HUMANITAS, in the Netherlands, offers free housing for college students–in a nursing home. Students must contribute 30 hours a month in companionship to the elderly.

JUDSON MANOR in Cleveland, Ohio has taken a similar approach, taking in Music and Arts college students to share space with senior residents.

phoenixcrcTHE COMMUNITY RESOURCE CENTER, in Phoenix, Arizona, when I visited in 2014, was a consortium of 17 agencies on 14 acres, built in 2005 to get homeless people off downtown streets. Local business owners supported the development of the campus after getting fed up with the state of their downtown sidewalks, awash in street alcoholics, the mentally ill and other homeless people. The CRC revitalized the downtown area, while providing critical services to the homeless population.  They see 800-1000 clients daily, providing food, security, bathrooms, job help, shelter, and more. Four uniformed officers patrol area, along with 4 certified security officers, plus private security inside. Most of the buildings are humble but sprawling—converted warehouses that offer quite a variety of services, ranging from a medical clinic to a full time I.D. replacement service funded by churches, to the tune of $175,000 annually . The CRC housed the largest homeless post office in the United States.

crcdental2Their dental facility was state of the art, funded by the V.A., ($300,000 annually in 2014), using volunteer dentists and trainees/students. As was the case in Calgary, the business community recognized that if they wanted fewer homeless individuals on the sidewalks they needed someplace better to go.

(Note: It’s unclear whether this campus survived funding cuts in 2015.)

That’s not the only program worth emulating in Phoenix. Others include:



manahouseMANA HOUSE (Marines, Army, Navy, Airforce) House   “is a peer-support organization of homeless and formerly homeless veterans. We help support veterans rebuilding their lives by providing support from our staff and partners.” This organization was founded by a group of previously homeless veterans, determined to pull their lives back together and to rescue many others as well. Their physical facility’s nothing fancy—converted old YMCA offices. But what they’ve accomplished is brilliant. First, all vets coming into the program are immediately assigned to squads, with duties—meaning everyone had a sense of belonging, value and contribution right off the bat. They got rid of the “case manager” label, replacing it with Action Plan Advisor. This shifted the relationship and empowered their clients to reestablish control and purpose in their lives.

encantopointeENCANTO POINTE  is a masterfully designed, self-contained community/housing complex that houses about 70 chronically homeless alcoholics/addicts. This is truly dignified wet housing, and a model of the “Housing First” approach that really works. Residents have actual, high quality apartments designed with their challenges in mind. For example, timers automatically turn stoves off if they’re left on too long, and if windows are left open the HVAC system in the apartment automatically turns off.



circlethecityCIRCLE THE CITY is a full-service medical rehabilitation facility for homeless individuals, usually recovering from major medical trauma, who would otherwise be out on the street. What I liked the most about it was that it cut no corners when it comes to quality—a first rate nursing home with dedicated staff.   602-776-9000.





garfield-commons-2GARFIELD COMMONS is an unusual low-rent apartment building—a converted nunnery. During my visit in 2014 they were planning on installing a full-basement indoor garden with grow lights, to produce their own food.






NETHERLANDS’ ARCHITECTS held a contest to design temporary housing for refugees and disaster victims that generated some good concepts. One approach aimed to build communities on vacant farm land. The housing units are cubical, making it easy to stack and move them.



STARTBLOK RIEKERHAVEN looks like a brilliant experiment in community building. About 300 refugees and 300 locals, all ages 18-27, live in these apartment buildings, with a goal of mutual support while launching their adult lives in the Netherlands.