June 30, 2017

New housing development for homeless families in Chicago delivers dignity through design

Get inspired by these three stories of innovation and ingenuity across America

Chicago’s La Casa Norte housing development will open next year. Image courtesy of La Casa Norte

Designing dignity: Since 2002, La Casa Norte has served Chicago’s homeless population. In 2016 alone, the organization gave out almost 30,000 meals and provided 348 homeless youths with places to sleep in their emergency shelters. Next year, the organization hopes to open a new shelter with even grander ambitions: permanent housing for homeless youths and families in a development that is both functional and beautiful. “When you think about our history of how public housing has been designed in this country—cheapest, institutional, concrete-looking scary fortress,” Sol Flores, La Casa Norte’s executive director, told Next City. The new La Casa Notre housing, she explained, will be different. “These families, these young people are going to get to live in new, beautiful housing that for them immediately helps to uplift a sense of dignity and safety.” The five-story development features a health clinic, an art gallery, and a pantry designed to promote healthier food choices, among other amenities meant to provide long-term support.

A future after prison: A new program launched earlier this year is preparing inmates for a brighter future. At the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan, inmates have the opportunity to undergo the “Trading Places” program. Through Trading Places, inmates can learn woodworking, welding, plumbing, and other skills that might be useful in a future career. “It costs us over $30,000 a year to keep these guys incarcerated,” DeWayne Burton, the warden at Handlon told Michigan Radio’s Stateside. “We help them with finding a place to stay. We have job coaches, we help them with health care, we help them with counseling. The theory behind it is … everything that I just named, is cheaper than $30,000.” The program also builds a sense of teamwork and a healthy attitude toward work. “We all live and eat chow together,” Devin Roster, an inmate, told Michigan Live. “We’re closer together because we’re all striving for something. We want to do better in our lives and lift up other people and make their lives better, too.”

Fighting fire with … good public policy: A new proposal is up for consideration by Denver’s City Council, and if it passes, it may make the city’s DIY art scene a lot safer. After last year’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, California, DIY art spaces have been under increased scrutiny. In Denver, “conditional certificates of occupancy,” currently under consideration, may make it easier for the city and unpermitted art spaces to work together toward greater safety. If the proposal is approved by Denver’s City Council, unpermitted art spaces could approach the city government without fear of reprisal and receive an inspection; life-threatening violations would be a priority. “We recently had a situation where there was a glassblowing facility next to a whole bunch of combustibles,” Brad Buchanan, Denver Community Planning and Development’s executive director told Denverite. “In that situation, we said, ‘Move the combustibles, rope off the glassblowing, don’t use the glass blowing until we’ve come up and finished your compliance plan.’ They didn’t have to vacate.” The proposal takes a non-punitive approach to spaces operated by those with limited resources. “We understand that resources are a huge challenge for these spaces. That’s why these folks are in unpermitted spaces,” Buchanan explained.

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor for The Renewal Project.