The Golden Gate Flyer 

"Helping House the Homeless"

Shelter Homes

The ShelterHome© concept is a less expensive alternative to the traditional Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)[1] models historically used to house previously homeless individuals.

A ShelterHome© development will;

  • virtually eliminate the need to build temporary shelters of any type, including Navigation/SAFE centers.
  • greatly decrease the need to build expensive, traditionally designed, PSH developments.
  • cost 20% less per square foot to build than traditionally designed PSH.
  • house at least twice as many residents on a given site compared to traditionally designed PSH.
  • provide a collective living environment that, unlike traditional PSH, encourages interaction among residents and the development of a truly supportive collective living experience that helps re-integrate folks into society.
  • provide employment opportunities for residents.
  • have world-class architectural design that will greatly reduce neighborhood opposition typically mounted against the unsightly, incongruent appearance of temporary shelter developments.
  • be a long-term housing solution so residents will not be temporary visitors who come and go every few weeks or months, but instead be part of a real community and the neighborhood in which it is located.

(Before more fully describing this new housing concept, it would be helpful to understand a few traditional homelessness reduction strategies)

Homelessness Reduction Strategies

Problem Solving and Housing First

Problem Solving is a strategy that focuses on helping folks out of homelessness without the need to enroll them in expensive PSH programs. Homeward Bound, for example, is a program that helps reconnect people to family and friends who are willing to provide them with a stable housing situation. Problem Solving is the most cost-effective homelessness reduction strategy but simply will not result in enough homeless ‘exits’ for the thousands of folks needing a place to live.

Housing First is a widely accepted strategy that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. Housing First only works, however, when there is enough housing available for a city’s (or region’s) homeless population. Sadly, in high cost cities such as San Francisco, there isn’t enough money available to construct the amount of ‘traditionally’ designed housing needed for all of its’ homeless population.

The Numbers

San Francisco alone has over 8,000 citizens who are homeless. The greater Bay Area has tens of thousands of additional homeless and the total is growing at an alarming rate.[2] While many are homeless for only a few days or weeks[3], tens of thousands find themselves homeless for one year or more. The cost to create enough ‘traditionally designed’ homes for the tens of thousands of homeless individuals in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area would be in the many billions of dollars, dollars which will simply not be available any time soon.


Temporary shelters do provide an alternative to ‘sleeping rough’[4] but do not reduce homelessness. Traditional shelters have very restrictive rules and require residents to check out every morning and then return every evening. Maximum stays are usually only a few weeks or months and thus do not provide the sort of housing stability necessary for a homeless person to begin re-building their lives.

Many people who are homeless shun the shelters because of the rules and restrictions as well as being afraid of violence inside them. So-called ‘Navigation and Safe Centers’ are an improvement to traditional shelters but still have stay limitations and therefore also do not provide true housing stability.

Many homeless advocates believe shelters are an inefficient use of limited resources because they are temporary, lasting only a few years before needing to be dismantled and/or relocated, and do not reduce homelessness. Shelter developments are typically not well liked by the residents who will have to live near them and new shelter proposals often face vigorous protests.[5] Furthermore, because of their temporary nature and one-story modular construction, potential shelter occupancy density is very low.

Permanent Supportive Housing

PSH developments are usually converted Single Room Occupancy (SRO) buildings or new buildings containing fully self-contained ‘micro-apartments’, both of which include on-site supportive services. Most of the existing stock of San Francisco’s PSH was created by converting older SRO buildings. Unfortunately, most of the existing stock of suitable SRO buildings have already been converted to PSH so now new construction will be required to substantially increase the supply of PSH. The cost of such new construction is now between $500k to $700k per unit.

Comparative Cost of Shelters and Housing Programs

Problem Solving:                        $6,500 per intervention (maximum)

Rapid Rehousing[6]:                   $45,000 per household up to two years (average)

Adult Shelter:                             $18,000 per bed annually (average)

Navigation Center:                     $35,500 per bed annually (average)

Permanent Supportive Housing: $70,000 per unit annually (average)[7]

ShelterHome©[8] :                     $34,500 per resident annually (average)

The ShelterHome© Concept

The ShelterHome© concept redefines the definition of home. A ShelterHome© development is a permanent multi-story structure with open floor plates, private sleeping quarters (‘pullman’ units[9]), common stairway/elevator core, communal toilets and showers, common kitchen, dining and social spaces, shared computer access, supportive services, pet support, storage and, where appropriate, street level retail.

Because the $34,500 annual cost per ShelterHome© is less than the $35,500 annual cost per bed for a Navigation (SAFE) shelter and the $70,000 annual cost per unit for traditional PSH, it will no longer be necessary to spend scarce funding on temporary shelter facilities that do nothing to reduce homelessness, nor on expensive traditional PSH projects. Instead, all monies available for shelter development and PSH housing can be used to build Shelter Homes.[10]


Instead of individual apartments, each with its own kitchen, living, and bathing areas, residents in a ShelterHome© development would instead have their own ‘pullman’ sleeping/living units that would open to bright, cheerful common living areas. Pullmans would be movable, pre-fabricated units with 7’ high sound-resistant walls and lockable entry doors. Each would include a bed, desk/dresser area, reading lights, small refrigerator, storage closet and blue-tooth capable flat screen TV. No ceilings would be provided to eliminate the need for expensive HVAC distribution systems.
Each Pullman unit would have a retractable overhead ‘velarium’ to assure a comfortable sleeping environment, day or night.

Proof of Concept

We selected an already proposed Permanent Supportive Housing site at 101 Hyde Street to demonstrate proof of concept. According to the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) PSH project pipeline, this site has been earmarked for around 110 units of traditionally designed PSH. The Shelter Home concept will deliver twice as many living units per residential floor, provide more residential amenities on each floor, and encourage healthy interaction between residents.

Our Shelter Home design concept partners

The ShelterHome© concept was conceived by the Golden Gate Foundation’s chairman, Gordon Crespo, and its co-chairman, John Proctor whose firm, Techne + Logos, developed the conceptual design. We have been assisted in developing construction budgets by Nibbi Bros General Contractors (to be confirmed), experts in the construction of housing of all types, and by Star City Inc., experts in the development of forward thinking co-living environments.

The attached drawings show one potential ‘ShelterHome©’ concept design for 101 Hyde Street. We opted to include a ground floor public restaurant both to provide a close by dining option for residents and to provide job training for them as well. The inclusion of a public restaurant including parklets along Golden Gate Ave., also better integrates the Shelter Home building into the community and provides for lively street level activity.

Our design team decided early on that just because this is ‘housing for the homeless’ it doesn’t mean the architectural design must be pedestrian and lackluster. As can be seen by an examination the design exhibits below, the building we’ve proposed for 101 Hyde Street is world class.


[1] Traditional Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) models consists of either converted Single Room Occupancy (SRO) buildings or new construction of fully self-contained apartments, both with on-site supportive services.

[2] San Francisco’s 2019 PIT count showed a 17% increase while Alameda County experienced a 40% increase in homelessness from 2017-2019. Eight of nine Bay Area counties experienced substantial increases as well.

[3] Each year around 15-20k folks find themselves homeless in San Francisco. Most ‘self-resolve’ and aren’t homeless for more than a few days or weeks. Around 2,500 have been homeless for over one year and are considered ‘chronically homeless’. As of Jan. 2019, over 8.000 need some sort of permanent home.

[4] Sleeping Rough is a term used to describe homeless folks living and sleeping on the streets rather than in a shelter.

[5] The proposed SAFE center on San Francisco’s Embarcadero in South Beach is being vigorously opposed by many and, because of numerous lawsuits, may never get built.

[6] Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) is a program that helps newly (or soon to be) homeless folks quickly get re-housed by the provision of short-term rental financial assistance.

[7] This is based on the SF Dept of Homelessness and Supportive Housings reported operating costs of $35,000/year PLUS our estimate of the capital cost amortization of $34,000/year. Together they total around $70,000/year.

[8] ShelterHome© developments will at least double resident density over traditionally designed apartment-based housing models. Because of this increased density, the cost per resident for services is lower than that for traditionally designed PSH or Navigation (SAFE) centers. Amortized costs would be around $17,000/year and cost of services per resident would be around $17,500/year for a total of $34,500/year per resident.

[9] A ‘pullman’ is a pre-fabricated private living/sleeping space each ‘shelter home’ resident occupies.

[10] It will be necessary to work with planning and building departments to create some exemptions from traditional housing code requirements and with CHCD and HUD to get their approval and willingness to partially fund this new type of housing for the previously homeless.

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