Over the past few posts I've noticed a diminishing number of readers. I take this as an indication that there's been too much of the same thing and people are getting bored and maybe a little depressed by my posts. Therefore for this post I'm going to try to spark some discussion with one of my harebrained ideas. Hopefully this accomplishes a few things: it's an idea to provide for our homeless neighbors so hopefully it'll be less depressing, maybe even hope inducing; I expect people to get involved in the comments section, tell me why my idea won't work, what parts might work by themselves, what could be added to the idea to make it better, even just tell me just how much of a waste of time this crazy talk is; and finally I just needed to diversify my posts a little to break up the monotony for you guys so hopefully it works.
Why don't we engineer an entire city designed to help people get out of poverty and back on their feet?
Pros: Central entity to provide support for all homeless individuals; Homeless would get warmth, food and community; Assistance, therapy and counselling could be focused; Homeless people and their often associated drugs would be out of the main cities making them cleaner and safer places for our non-homeless neighbors (also a con, see below); the overflow areas would be extra valuable in the event of a natural disaster where housing has to be found for vast numbers of people quickly.
Cons: Homeless people would be out of the main cities making it easier for main city residents to forget about them, "out of sight out of mind" would be a big hindrance to getting the country to provide adequate care and funding to the Homeless City (Or "Gateway City" as I thought I'd like to call it, as in a Gateway off the Streets...in a side note I also thought this name might help convince Bill Gates to invest ;) ); I'm not sure how exactly this would effect the national drug trade but centralizing those individuals that are involved in the use of drugs could initially have very negative effects by making it easier for suppliers to find their buyers...however, over time if the system worked then it would be effectively reducing the number of users by giving them a system through which to kick the habit without judgement and at their own pace. Even if they relapsed they would know that all they have to do is show back up to one of the Gateway Cities to find their way back out of the rut. So...kind of a pro-con on that one but I'll put it down here in the cons because that's the way I think most people will view it.
It would have to be a tiered system, allowing anyone and everyone the freedom to come and go at will, safely and un-judged from the lowest tier as well as providing protection to those individuals who manage to shed some of their baggage and succeed in moving up tiers (ie. recovery from drug addiction, getting a job but still not able to make house payments or keep up with rent while building savings and re-establishing healthy credit).
The city could be engineered so that, just by existing, it is giving back to the surrounding communities by making it state-of-the-art in green tech, efficient and solar power.
The city would be designed entirely of dwellings eliminating the need for large roads and vehicles inside the city (most homeless don't have and can't afford vehicles anyway). It would need an effective commuting system for inner-city travel and connecting to excellent commuter options for getting to the neighboring cities where the ex-homeless would be holding most of their jobs (some jobs would still be sustained inside the city, ideally by lower tiered individuals as a starting point for developing the work skills and honing their communication and social skills with their coworkers before being expected to interact in a common work place. Jobs like these would be mostly custodial and maintenance related within the city)
For a real leap of faith, the city could be organized, for all but the highest tiers just about to leave, as a mini socialist community where everything done within and without is for the benefit of the city as a whole (As a point of reference it's important to note that this is how many, if not most, tent cities are currently being run) This would help build the community involvement, encourage working together and give people a support system larger than themselves and their counselor to rely on. Coupled with the higher tiers' focus on getting jobs, learning how to save money and establishing savings and good credit on the individual level this setup would give everybody the chance to take advantage of community assistance until they had things figured out enough that they could get out on their own. All income from the lower tiers therefore would be put into a central fund that would be used to maintain the city, pay the limited staff and employees of the city and, if anything is left over, contribute to improving the neighboring cities as well. This would make it easy for people to make donations to their homeless neighbors because they could just write a donation to the city and it would benefit thousands.
I don't think I would try this system with any more than 50,000 individuals in one particular city since these social societies historically only work with smaller populations. Using homeless population estimations from the internet I figure that 5 or 6 of these facilities around the country would cater to about 10% of our homeless brothers and sisters. Hoping that the system would be effective in funneling people out of poverty and back into healthy living, eventually this would be enough to service everybody's needs. A central part of this system would be getting people to the city in the first place. For this I see taxi services run by the Gateway Cities and called by people who would like to become residents. I also see potential collaborations with airlines or bus and train companies to help facilitate the movement of this very vulnerable population.
Here's a 1st draft for the design of the community built around a 5 tiered system moving people closer and closer to independence and self sustainability at each tier. (I imagine, with the buildings having several stories, the building area taking up about the space of half of CenturyLink (Qwest) Field because 60ish thousand fit in just the seats there...the garden areas could take up as much or little space was available but ideally enough to provide for at least the community itself)
The 1st tier is completely open providing anybody the freedom to sleep in a warm, dry location. One of the things I hear a lot in my travels around Seattle is that people have been "Kicked out" of particular places for bad behavior. The first tier would have a large capacity area for sleeping on mats when there are no rooms available, another similar area for people who are disciplined for bad behavior and need to be separated from one group but still need and deserve a warm place to lay their head (maybe a couple different of these areas would be needed) and another area for couples that are experiencing drug related problems. Children could be taken care of in a facility inside the administration building where the families would be able to spend time with them but they would be kept safe from the drug infused environment.
The 2nd tier would comprise a secure area where people's movements may be restricted because these people would be undergoing voluntary treatment to quit their abusive habits. This would be a high turnover tier and so would probably not need to have as great a capacity so it could be kept in the upper stories of the admin building where the patients would be closest to the help they need.
Tiers 3-5 would be for people reaching increasing levels of independence. Anybody would be welcome to enter directly to tier 3 so long as they were not bringing drug related problems into that area of the community. The living quarters would improve from tier to tier just enough to make it an added incentive to improve your situation but not so much that the tier 5 dwellings are a place one would want to live out your days in...the goal of the whole system is for people to eventually move on (though it is designed with the willing acceptance that some will choose to stay put and that choice would be respected).
Gardens in the community would provide produce for the residents as well as, hopefully, enough for some of the higher tiered individuals to be able to take some of it into the neighboring cities to sell at farmers markets and grocery stores. Fields above and hydroponic gardens below ground with artificial light sources or light tubes would be a good way to maximize the useful area.
In the ultimate optimistic gesture I envision the whole community being designed in very flexible buildings such that, as the homeless population diminishes, the residences on the outside of the community (in the non-drug side only) could be retrofitted easily into either nicer apartments that could be rented/purchased or retail store locations that could be sold or leased out to companies and businesses or residents of the community could start their own businesses in.
To be completely clear, I have no dilutions that a system like this would ever actually come to fruition (not that I don't think it would be very successful in its goal but there is just no way it would ever get great enough support or funding from our non-homeless neighbors) BUT I do believe that we can learn a lot about what we could do with the systems we have in place and those that we plan on devising by thinking about our ideal systems and this is simply my version of that. Especially because of that fact I welcome your comments to help me learn what I can :)