Homeless-proof Designs

On the train today I overheard a conversation by two men who appeared to be architects or were involved in some form of construction work.

One was explaining the potential problem of homeless people. His ‘solution’ was to ensure that the layout and design of the building did not make it a desirable destination for homeless people. If only earlier designs of bridges had adopted this, then homeless people would simply have to ‘move on’. The other man, clearly wanting to please, eagerly nodded his head, and within minutes, the conversation had descended into a who could out-cruel the other marathon.

‘Move on?’ I thought. The lack of human empathy deeply affected me.

Despite working in the not-for-profit sector, I am no poster child for advocacy for homeless people. More often than not, I do not hand over spare change. More often than not, the first thought that does come to my head is: ‘What will they use that money for?’

It’s an automatic reaction that I am working hard to break down.

But never have I subscribed to the belief that homelessness is a choice or that people who are homeless are inferior beings. So when I do meet people who hold that belief, I am astounded at the cruel casualness of ignorance laced with a strong superiority complex, perhaps somewhat rooted in fear of being homeless themselves.

As Melbourne’s suburbs are re-designed to accommodate for changing demographics, I cannot help but think that the gentrification of suburbs like Fitzroy, while pleasing the arty/hipsters, further isolates those living in the margins, making life more difficult and opportunities less accessible to them.

Our so called public spaces are more and more being dictated by private demands. Our streets do not welcome human interaction; pedestrian walkways become narrower and the chances of seeing another point of view more limited as we hop in and out of our cars.

It is sad that rather than designing more inclusive spaces that truly ‘solve’ the problem of homelessness, these architects design a way to ‘move’ the problem elsewhere. As smart as they think they are, to me it reflects a lack of imagination on how to create a harmonious community space, one that recognises that people are caught in the dips of life’s ups and downs and works towards helping rather than pushing people away when they need it the most.

Now that is my idea of a homeless-proof design.

Update: Since this post, an article in The Age caught my eye that highlights just how bad the housing market is for homeless people or those at risk of homelessness; even traditionally low socio-economic areas they are being priced out of the market. We all know that the further away from the city, the less the economic opportunities, and also, the higher the risk of living in fire prone areas. This is truly depressing.

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