New California Homeless Shelter Offers Sustainability

A social worker in East Oakland, California, is making a big difference in the lives of the homeless with green design.

| January 2008 Web

  • Crossroads, a new homeless shelter in East Oakland, was built “green” from the ground up, including solar panels on the roof.
    Kike Arnal for the New York Times

Homeless shelters in East Oakland, California are far from glamourous—ratty old couches, small and inadequate heaters, dirt-filled floors and walls, shattered light fixtures and unsafe electrical cords sprawled across the floor under a leaky ceiling. However, a lively social worker decided to make a difference; a green one, at that.

The social worker making a difference, Wendy Jackson, has been raising money for ten years in order to replace the decrepit facility with a state-of-the-art $11 million building, and maybe the only "green" shelter built from the ground up. Crossroads, the homeless shelter making headlines in Alameda County, has a solar-paneled roof, hydronic heating, practical ceiling fans, nontoxic paints, windows that can be opened to let in fresh air, and desks and bureaus made from pressed wheat. Each resident will have his own locker closet and storage drawers built into his bed in a dorm-like structure, and the building is complete with an examining room for medical volunteers and a special wing for homeless families.

Wendy says she wants a building that is "dignified," saying people in crisis need a living environment that seems under control. "The building has to be healthy to make people healthy," she says.

As of last week, people were still waiting for the functional beds to be delivered before anyone could fully move in to the well-lit and "cozy" space. The facility will accommodate 125 residents, including a 55-year-old Paul McClendon, who has high hopes for the centrally-heated new space that was hard to fathom for a man who lives on the streets. "It's going to be one beautiful place," Paul said. "It has respect for the environment, global warming and saving trees."

For updates on the new building, check out the East Oakland Community Project.

More about green efforts in California

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