Not every member of Haven for Hope comes seeking shelter. San Antonio’s most vulnerable population is also one of its most diverse. Creating a space that transitions even the most chronically homeless into a place of hope and opportunity might be the most ambitious civic project the city has undertaken. Looking to eradicate this issue, the City, along with numerous service-based organizations and design team, came together to create Haven for Hope. Haven for Hope provides all the services necessary to address the root causes of homelessness, such as food, clothing, shelter, and social services.
One in three Americans is one paycheck away from homelessness. One ER visit. One broken down car. One sick relative. The reasons for homelessness are as varied as the ages and races it affects.
In San Antonio, this population was skyrocketing, with 25,500 people homeless in 2003. These were people who, in most instances, wanted the same things we all want. Safety. Security. Dignity. Welcome. “Their hurdles to getting there are just higher,” said Principal in Charge Rick Archer.
In most cases, people seeking shelter are “warehoused,” held in temporary spaces that serve as a rest stop in a continuous cycle of homelessness. They spend most of their daylight hours making their way from one processing point to another in search of aid.
No one service or point of contact can address all of these causes in a comprehensive manner. At the same time, for a person struggling against homelessness to “run errands,” seeking aid can be a counterproductive, if not dangerous, endeavor.
Haven for Hope is the answer to that dilemma. It is the largest and most comprehensive facility of its kind in the United States, housing more than 78 San Antonio-based nonprofits and government agencies.
With monumental collaboration between public entities and nonprofit service providers, Haven for Hope sought to centralize the resources people need as they get back on their feet. Even if the first thing they need is the will to do it.
Haven for Hope is designed with community in mind. “People are accustomed to a community they don’t want to lose,” said Archer.
The first community Overland and their partners needed to consider was the existing neighborhood around the Haven for Hope site. They designed safe points of contact for the surrounding area with services like medical, dental, vision, and childcare available to the neighborhood. This helped the community to feel like they were not just having a new population dropped into their midst with no consideration for the culture already there.
Haven for Hope brings people into a safe and secure core and then sends them out into the world restored. Creating a space to reflect and facilitate the optimism of this mission was a unique challenge—especially considering 140,000 SF of the facilities would be developed from existing warehouses. “We have a stereotype of being ‘homeless people,’ but we are really people overcoming homelessness,” said one Haven for Hope alum.
Moving away from the warehouse model of homeless shelters, Overland deliberately demolished 160,000 SF of warehouse space, replacing it with housing solutions to graduate residents toward independence. Dorms and efficiency space may initially fit the needs of an individual or family, but eventually the goal is for them to move into the market-rate apartments that were added several years later.
The remaining 140,000 SF became the programming space, including classrooms and conference rooms, a library and learning center, mail center, barbershop, exercise and recreational areas, a chapel, a childcare center with an after-school program, and even a pet shelter service center that offers a training program for seeing-eye dogs.
Haven for Hope is not trying to create the illusion that real problems don’t plague their resident community. Safety and security measures are prominent, as are resources for those struggling with addiction, mental illness, and chronic illness.
Separate courtyards serve the unique needs of women, children, men and the chronically homeless, while common areas allow safe points of interaction. Multigenerational community is powerfully transformative and essential to the holistic transformation at Haven for Hope. Making that possible was worth overcoming the design and operation challenges it presented.
People can find themselves without a home for any number of reasons. Problems that started small are amplified and complicated as people find themselves caught in a cycle they cannot overcome on their own. Since Haven’s opening, the homeless population in San Antonio has dropped by approximately 89 percent. At Haven for Hope, the focus is not on the path that brought them to homelessness, but on the path that will lead them out.