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Repurposing Spaces for Supportive Housing

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

There has long been a shortage of supportive housing in Ontario for our vulnerable populations. The impact of the pandemic has left many commercial and institutional spaces empty which provides some new opportunities.

Blue Door seized one such opportunity and asked us to transform their former offices into transitional housing for families. The Abode Supportive Housing Program is for vulnerable families that will receive support for up to one year.

The project involved repurposing three individual offices into bedrooms and using the large meeting room for a family room and kitchen area. So how do you convert an office into a bedroom? On the surface, any decorator can give you many ideas to create an Instagram-worthy result. The reality is that the environment they are provided with needs to support recovery from past and present trauma for the clients seeking this kind of program.

Simply providing a pretty place to live in fails to recognize the scope and impact of the trauma that has been experienced. Psychological triggers must be addressed in terms of how the physical space contributes to retraumatization. This in turn can inhibit a client's ability to fully engage in all the other support services offered to them.

Evidence-based design principles involve addressing the many factors that contribute to supporting clients with varying degrees of trauma. The experience of homelessness comes with a high degree of prolonged anxiety and toxic stress. This is especially relevant for children.

The large meeting space needed to be broken down into zones. Such a large area without definition presents an overwhelming and anxiety-inducing response. A small play tent offers a place of retreat, an opportunity to self-regulate and self-soothe. A little reading corner is a place for parents to engage with children in quiet moments. Engagement between caregiver and child is vitally important for early childhood development.

Biophilic design is an important element that reduces blood pressure, anxiety, mental fatigue and improves cognition.

Thank you to Blue Door for the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to this program and for recognizing the significance of trauma-informed design in supporting clients.

P.S. do you recognize which office was yours? :)

As we continue to move through the pandemic, we are seeing many spaces being repurposed. That also means one space may need to serve multiple types of users and activities. Flexibility is now essential.

Have you redesigned your space to meet your new needs? How successful was your project?

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