This thesis is an architectural exploration into how to partially address the housing crisis affecting the visibly homeless population of Charleston, South Carolina. Thousands of men, women, and children in the United States are homeless in Charleston there is a significant and increasing number of visibly homeless. Those who sleep outside shelters are generally known as the "visibly homeless" or street homeless. The visibly homeless is the most underserved group within the entire homeless population and is composed of those who sleep in places not intended for human habitation, such as bus stations, subway trains, automobiles, doorways, and abandoned buildings. These individuals exist at the threshold of meeting their basic physiological needs such as warmth, food, clothing, security and shelter.
Shelter as a necessity rather than as a negotiated commodity is the reality of a homeless person. Shelter that strives to satisfy basic physiological, social, safety, and self-esteem needs and utilizes affordable construction strategies can best support the visibly homeless in Charleston. The issues and complexities of homelessness and mental health will drive this thesis investigation. An architecture is proposed to meet the basic needs of Charleston's most exposed and critical population--the visibly homeless.
This thesis first identifies homelessness as a housing emergency and examines the causes and effects of homelessness. This visibly homeless population is very difficult to obtain an accurate count or profile, but through informal personal interviews with the test population, greater insight was gained about their living situation and resultant mental stability. Secondly, this thesis examines the hierarchy of needs, formulated by Abraham Maslow. This hierarchy identifies the needs that we as a civilization must satisfy to survive and that require fulfillment to become the individuals we are all capable of becoming. Research also examined Oscar Newman's defensible space principles, which attempt to deter crime through the physical environment. Crime deterrence is essential when addressing the visibly homeless--a population who is vulnerable and regularly victimized. Lastly, this thesis explores the relief efforts offered for those who have suddenly become homeless due to natural causes and compares those to the efforts taken to those who are homeless due to a complex set of circumstances, some innate and some contracted. The design principles and strategies employed in the creation of relief housing for the victims of the Kosovo war were examined and adapted. Housing relief efforts should be responsive to homelessness with the same level of urgency and intensity as those measures taken with victims of natural disasters.
This research led to the formation of design principles that can appropriately accommodate the housing needs of the visibly homeless in Charleston. Structures serving the visibly homeless must respond to personal selection of site whenever applicable and appropriate. The siting of these structures and the dwelling units themselves must provide defensible space through territoriality and surveillance opportunities that support personal space. These structures must also allow for universal and flexible living which support personalization and varying levels of privacy. Lastly, structures serving the homeless must utilize affordable construction methods, materials, and labor which respond to the limited financial resources available to the homeless and their supportive organizations. These design principles will aid in the creation of an architectural response.
The test site for this thesis has been self-designated by the local homeless population itself, as it is in close proximity to the existing homeless shelter. The residents of the site have chosen to, or have been forced, to live outside the existing shelter, but still require the services provided by the shelter including mental health counseling, food services, and medical attention. This urban campground is designed as a supplement and as an alternative to the traditional shelter model existing in Charleston. The strategy of this thesis is to create shelter that supports well-being and mental health through spaces that accommodate basic needs and create defensible space.