There's no greater joy than opening a homeless shelter blueprint and knowing the architect was high. A roof made from a hundred car windshields high. Tiny garden tubs so homeless can grow corn high. Attaching dozens of plastic sacs under bridges that expand with rainwater until they resemble spider eggs high.

Do these ideas have a certain charm? Yes. Were the designs realized? Some of them. Did an appreciable number of homeless people use any of them? Of course not.

I've lost count of how many architects send me homeless shelter designs without having consulted, or even laid eyes on, a homeless person first, mostly due to the justification of "I have a PhD and they crap in people's backyards, so clearly I'm the poverty expert in the room."

The designs range from well-meaning to fanciful to a level of exploitation you can only achieve if you believe in incremental personhood where someone without documentation or property is afforded the same limited rights as a domesticated animal.

The fanciful designs usually skew harder into Tiny House territory, which is fine if you're a rich white person who wants a minimalist lifestyle without the class associations of trailer parks. These architects prize non-traditional materials, bright colors, and plenty of natural light. Affordability is a low priority, which means cities would foot the bill.

My favorite example of architects prioritizing aesthetic was the time a group flew us to Italy to build one of our shelters, but they insisted on design changes to make it appear more chic. Plywood was replaced with furniture grade polished oak (so double the cost and weight). Brown camouflage paint became fire truck red. And all unsightly screws were replaced with picture framing nails. It looked great, right up until we pushed on a wall with one hand and watched it fall right out the frame.

The well-meaning shelters are usually better researched in terms of tried and true construction methods. My favourite concept house that nobody wanted to live in was an adobe hut in rural Alabama where the architect built a rounded room out of clay, set a giant bonfire inside, and cooked it into shape. Which is great if you were raised in the country and enjoyed hunting, farming, and tornados, none of which appealed to the urban homeless she was selling this design to.

While the previous designs perhaps weren't practical, they were done out of love for art and people in need, and eventually might find their audience. The worst designers are those that manage to normalize misery.

A sleep pod shaped like a trash can where the person would have to sleep in a crouched sitting position.

A sleep pod built into a shopping cart that costs $2,000 apiece and is so heavy that even a healthy young man would have difficulty carting it around.

Cameras installed under bridges that would livestream homeless camp life directly to YouTube, thus generating ad sales for the designer.

No matter what business you're in, client research is critical, even if that research is unpleasant. I say the same thing to architects all the time, "Try sleeping on the ground. Just once. In your driveway. Try it."

But even now they refuse, because, and I quote, "There is nothing to be learned from a negative experience."

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