How designers envision shelters for LA’s homeless residents

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A courtyard with gardens and food trucks might not be the vision most Angelenos have of what a homeless shelter looks like, but some local architects and real estate professionals want to reshape how emergency housing is designed.

This week, the Los Angeles chapter of the Urban Land Institute released renderings and sketches that emerged from design workshops focused on the development of shelters the city plans to build through Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “A Bridge Home” initiative.

Appealing design can be doubly important in projects designed for homeless residents, as these developments are often more likely to face opposition from community members.

The concepts will “help secure greater neighborhood support” for future shelters, says Clare DeBriere, chair of ULI’s Los Angeles chapter.

Through the initiative, three different design teams drew up plans for 50, 100, and 150-bed shelters. ULI Los Angeles has also recruited real estate company CBRE Group and architecture and planning firm Gensler to help locate possible sites for the new facilities.

In April, Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a “shelter crisis” in the city of Los Angeles, committing to spend at least $20 million developing facilities to house some of the nearly 23,000 residents of LA living without shelter on a given night.


A concept for a 100-bed shelter by Studio One Eleven and SWA includes courtyards, gardens, and vendors.
Rendering by Studio One Eleven, SWA, courtesy ULI Los Angeles

The first of the shelters is set to open alongside the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument in coming weeks. Beyond that, city officials have identified more than a dozen other potential sites in neighborhoods around the city.

But selling residents on the plan hasn’t been easy. In Koreatown, community members have repeatedly demonstrated against a proposed shelter that would rise close to the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue.

Renderings of possible shelter concepts from the design teams recruited by ULI Los Angeles emphasize community-facing features of shelter sites, like community gardens, open spaces, and vendors.


This 50-bed design from Relm and JFAK Architects includes open space between housing for gardens and trees.
Rendering by Relm, JFAK Architects, courtesy ULI Los Angeles

Such elements aren’t included in current proposals for the shelter sites, but the facilities will offer residents more than a place to stay. They’re set to include on-site services like healthcare and case management so that those living in the shelters can be more easily connected with permanent housing.

ULI Los Angeles plans to work with members of the City Council to ensure that sites for future shelters can be easily and quickly located. The group recently released a list of recommendations for reducing the number of unsheltered residents in Los Angeles.

Those strategies include development of 60 temporary shelters like the one at El Pueblo. Right now, however, the city only has money budgeted for about one quarter of that amount.

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