When you think of Santa Fe, it might call to mind an elite community of artists disconnected from the day-to-day challenges of the average person. For better or worse, this is what it called to mind for me. So when I was asked to help facilitate the One Door Campus Workshop in November—a project aimed at addressing the causes of homelessness in their community—I anticipated a group that would respond to the needs of their homeless population in a fairly typical fashion, viewing it as too complicated and too expensive, with the usual “NIMBY” attitude. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was a project entirely driven by the desire to connect with and serve the members of their community most in need and took the idea of community partnerships to a profound level.
UNITED IN PURPOSE
Santa Fe’s One Door Campus seeks to be, like Haven for Hope, a human-centric, concentrated facility with whole-person services for the homeless population: medical care, counseling, job coaching, whatever the population needs to get back on their feet.
The opportunity to join One Door Campus’s workshop came to us through a network of architects, urban designers, and advocates. Sherry Kafka-Wagner, MFA, a consultant, researcher, lecturer, and writer, knew about Overland’s heart for the homeless. She encouraged Suby Bowden, AIA, a partner at Suby Bowden + Associates—a Santa Fe architecture firm offering pro bono design work for One Door Campus—to reach out.
Before we knew it, Scott Ackerson, vice president at Haven for Hope—who I invited to join me—and I were standing in front of a room full of Santa Fe’s service providers, public leaders, and civil servants explaining how Haven for Hope had changed the way San Antonio cares for its own homeless population. I told of my own experience as an architect on Haven and The Bridge, the lessons I (and our team) learned, and how it was by far the most challenging project I had worked on in my career. It was not so much an “architectural” challenge, but a challenge in the sense that it aimed to serve a population facing some of the most serious systemic issues that plague our society.
Amazingly, while Santa Fe is significantly smaller than San Antonio, it has a comparable homeless population. About 1,500 homeless residents are counted per year in Santa Fe, which is approximately the population of Haven for Hope.
Throughout the process, from site surveys to a packed room gathered to hear design to group discussions among service providers, it was clearly a community project.
A COALITION OF DREAMERS
That was what really energized me. There were many different concerns, interests, and areas of expertise in that room, but despite differing priorities and focuses, all involved were undoubtedly committed to this complicated process of coming together.
It was a coalition of dreamers and doers. Sunil Sakhalkar, IIA, an associate at Suby Bowden + Associates and the project coordinator for One Door Campus, hopes to be part of the Campus Operations Team once it’s open. He believes it is his destiny to be involved with a place of kindness, a place like One Door Campus. Moments of inspiration like this popped up throughout the weekend and protected our time from becoming an intimidating process of “no.” Instead, our collaboration generated a process of “how.”
Each workshop participant expressed their hopes for One Door Campus in a few words.
As the various stakeholders shared their perspectives and listened to others, they functioned more like a small town taking care of its own rather than a big city navigating bureaucracy. Hearing from District 1 Councilwoman Renee Villarreal and incoming District 2 County Commissioner Ana Hansen, as well as members of the Santa Fe police department and fire brigade, it was clear that this was a deeply human issue that the entire community felt compelled to address.
They aren’t naive to the task at hand either.
A PROBLEM ACROSS AMERICA
Emergency service providers in Santa Fe have adapted the way they respond to emergencies because of the number of homeless people involved in these calls. Recently, out of 14,000 calls, less than ten were related to structural fires. The rest involved people—sickness, abuse, overdoses. Emergency responders had to adapt to increasing human needs, not just public safety concerns.
The fire brigade in particular gave a harrowing look at the heroin issues faced by the population this facility will one day serve. Today one million Americans are addicted to opioids, many of whom lived middle-class lives but now, addicted to heroin, are left with nothing. Santa Fe encounters this problem particularly. Our workshop group was committed to best practices in helping victims of addiction. After studying centers around the country, One Door Campus recognized Haven for Hope as their leading model. I think this is because Haven for Hope believes in the whole personhood of each individual it serves.
A lot of the design discussion dealt with the courtyards, which are key to Haven for Hope’s programming. Prospect’s Courtyard has been an evolving space for Haven as they tackle the challenge of best serving the most traumatized individuals. Safety and dignity must be balanced for all their residents, and they will be the first to tell you that you cannot ever step back and let entropy set in on that balance. It requires active tending. Scott focused on explaining how to keep this kind of space from becoming a processing mill. He has put so much thought into how to make the interface with the homeless community humane.
As we delved into the details of service capacity and needed flexibility, it brought together service providers who had worked in parallel but rarely together. Their missions were similar, but this was an opportunity to explore collective impact, not only for this one project, but in a larger sense.
We didn’t want to assume that everyone was automatically committed. Many people came to learn at the Friday workshop, but on Saturday morning we asked, considering the realities, who was still in.
Stakeholders had to set aside their egos from time to time, and many had to consider the cost for their particular organization. This sort of one-stop-shop facility creates redundancies that would have an impact on other shelters, food banks, and treatment centers.
Their willingness to put their money, time, and energy behind this project was obvious and moving. Even beyond that very practical investment, the group demonstrated remarkable generosity. Again, this was what really moved me: they didn’t see Scott and me as hired consultants coming to help them create an efficient organization. They saw this as a relationship where the homeless population would be cared for in a more impactful way by our ability to work together.
Nothing could be more demonstrative of this spirit than when I shared with them the image of the chapel at Haven for Hope. I noted the space where we had envisioned an art piece, but, of course, every time we get close to commissioning the piece, the money is more urgently needed somewhere else—and rightly so. So the chapel has never had the art it was designed to house. The next day one of the participants called Suby and said, “We’re an art community. We should raise the money and send Haven for Hope a piece of art for their chapel.” I was floored. Though we were in Santa Fe to help share knowledge for their aspirations, this weekend, and these relationships, will unexpectedly and directly impact those who walk the transformational campus of Haven for Hope.
Santa Fe knows itself; it knows its community resources; and it has really taken time to know the needs and the hurt of its homeless population. They are concerned with best practices, which is why they love Haven for Hope, but more than that, they are concerned with their neighbors.