Former Haven for Hope Vice President of Strategic Relations & homelessness advocate, Scott Ackerson, shares his reflections on the design experience of the Haven for Hope campus and the continued relationship since construction between the organization and Overland.
Almost ten years ago I began working for an organization called SAMMinistries (SAMM). At the time, SAMM was the largest provider of homeless services in the City of San Antonio. I took the position, in part, because I knew that SAMM was slated to be a key service provider for a new homeless transformational campus that was being developed, Haven for Hope. Overland Partners was brought on to be the architect for this project.
Shortly after starting at SAMM, I was invited to a meeting with Overland. Being a social worker, I knew little to nothing about architecture and space design. This complete lack of knowledge of the field left me wondering how I could possibly contribute to the conversation. My concerns were quickly quieted, however, upon meeting the architects from Overland. They put our team at ease, telling us that we were the experts in homeless service delivery, making it their job to capture how we did our work and then translate it into their area of expertise. With our input, they started to design space that would allow us to do our work efficiently and effectively, enabling us to meet the needs of the people we serve. Over the course of the next couple of months, we had multiple meetings with the architects as they continued to take and incorporate our feedback into the design. After countless months and meetings, we finally had plans that we all agreed met the program specifications, and we were able to break ground on what was to become Haven for Hope.
Two months after the Haven for Hope campus was opened, I accepted the position of Vice President of Strategic Relations at the shelter. As Vice President of Strategic Relations, I was able to provide tours, consultation and technical assistance to teams from across the city and other communities that came to tour Haven in hopes to learn from our work. Many times, Overland staff members were present in these tours. Initially, it seemed like an odd combination, a social worker and a team of architects co-conducting tours, presentations, and workshops together. However, what I came to understand from my involvement in this project is that there is a direct correlation between space design and the way people feel about their environment.
People experiencing homelessness are often overlooked in today’s society. In many cities across the United States, facilities that serve the homeless contain subpar buildings that focus more attention on costs than on recognizing the dignity and respect of the individuals who occupy the space. Overland took the time to research and understand the underlying issues associated with homelessness in order to cater to the unique needs of people that would live within Haven for Hope’s walls. The architects at Overland went far beyond just designing a building, and instead immersed themselves fully in the project, truly partnering with service providers and other stakeholders to engage in a collaborative and interactive process to design the campus. Thus, with Overland’s help, Haven for Hope became an environment that is more akin to a college campus than a homeless facility, affording the people needing the services a safe and dignified place to be.
I figured the partnership with Overland would be over after completion of the campus and the relationships that we built would diminish over time. I could not have been more wrong. The members of the Overland team have continued their commitment to us and to Haven for Hope to this day. James Andrews, a principal at Overland, and I have copresented at a convention for architects. Last year we were invited to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to share our learning and assist them in building political will for a project similar to Haven for Hope in their community. Rick Archer, Overland senior principal and CEO, regularly interfaces with people in the community experiencing homelessness and assists with getting them connected to services at Haven for Hope. Overland continues to contribute to Haven for Hope both financially and with in-kind support. It is evident that they did not view designing Haven for Hope as just a contract to generate revenue. Instead, they saw it as an opportunity to contribute to bettering the San Antonio community and the lives of people who are so easily forgotten.
What I have learned about Overland is that they do not have clients, they have partners. They take the time and put forth the effort to understand the people with whom they are working, in order to create an architectural design that is unique to their clients’ characteristics and needs. I have also learned that Overland is an organization with a commitment to community improvement and social change, whether they are working in San Antonio or working abroad. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with this firm on such a transformative project as Haven for Hope, and I look forward to partnering with Overland in addressing the issues of homelessness both in Texas and throughout the United States.
Scott Ackerson formerly was the Vice President of Strategic Relations at Haven for Hope. He now works for Health Management Associates, providing consultation to communities nationally in addressing issues associated with homelessness.