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Home Sweet Home? Not for at-risk youth. A call to shelter them with dignity through design.

What are the prospects for our marginalized youth in the post-pandemic world? Necessary funding for emergency services has never been fully available nor it seems enough of a priority for the government (I will resist the urge to rant here). It also seems even less likely to be available in the future, given the, what will be a long-lasting, economic impact of COVID-19. Though, I am compelled to point out that the government has been able to cough up overwhelming amounts of money to support us through this nightmare. See what I'm saying here?!

For the purpose of this post, I am focused on youth - it has a very personal meaning for me. My philosophy, beliefs, and desire to create change are specifically for youth but apply to all of the vulnerable people that need us to step up and help them help themselves to build a better life. So far, we are failing them miserably.

I am in the business of creating spaces that comfort, nurture, and provide a place to replenish emotional wellness. For mental health care professionals, counseling rooms that are trauma-informed and supportive for recovery, are crucial to optimizing engagement. Well established research in healthcare settings now dictates the architecture and design of new facilities. Evidence-based design equals improved patient outcomes. Although few and far between, there are some examples of innovative spaces designed for survivors of domestic violence, combat veterans, and chronically homeless.

Since science tells us that our built environment directly impacts mood and behaviour, why do we continue to "house" people in warehouse-like, institutional, oppressive environments that depreciate them as human beings?

Shelters are fraught with every conceivable environmental stressor and little if any real comforts. Commonly constructed with concrete walls, acoustics exacerbate an already elevated level of noise which is known to be a significant environmental stressor. Lighting is almost always exclusively fluorescents (tube or CFL) which have known negative physical and mental health implications. It's not just that the flicker and constant buzzing sound are merely annoying. The technology as a whole is particularly harmful to this vulnerable population. Fluorescent light induces stress response, triggers fight or flight response, suppresses melatonin, increases cortisol just to name a few. You can read about this in greater detail in a blog post from Psychology Today (link below). There are many more proactive measures we could be taking to improve the quality of life for the people that find themselves in this despair.

While we may not be able to change the structure or architecture of a shelter, we can change how it looks inside. It doesn't have to be institutional-like. Mental health care units in new healthcare facilities have a special focus on creating supportive and healing environments. The same evidence-based design principles can and should be applied to support shelter service users. Youth seeking these services are struggling to overcome trauma, abuse, substance use, and much more.


Hence, evidence-based design has the power to serve as a transformational impetus. Think about the possibilities! Just imagine if we designed (and redesigned) our youth shelters (and all shelters) to give them dignity, hope, empowerment, and WORTH.


Without a home the only "sense of place" is potentially the shelter community - that means it has to be a place they actually like going to. How can we expect the best result when we don't provide them with all the tools and supports to recover and thrive.

COVID-19 has shown us how the world can come together to support each other in innovative ways. There has been overwhelming generosity of heart and wallets. The collaboration of talent and resources is generating unprecedented results and achievements in many crisis needs of the day. My dream is to harness that same spirit of collaboration to recreate shelters into spaces that nurture the human spirit and transitional housing that provides comfort, healing, and empowerment.

If you are in the business of helping at-risk youth or you want to help me create something meaningful for our youth - please reach out to me.

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