We have a national crisis: homelessness. There are at least 320,000 homeless in Britain (according to the charity Shelter). More than 9,000 of these people are sleeping rough in England, almost a third of them in London. In the capital as a whole, 170,000 people – equivalent to one in 52 of us – have no home.
Evidence shows that people who experience homelessness for three months or longer on average (£4,298 per person to NHS services, £2,099 per person for mental health services and £11,991 per person in contact with the criminal justice system (according to the charity Crisis).) cost about £20K. (28-29 secs)
If 40,000 people were prevented from becoming homeless for one year in England it would save the public purse £370 million. The cost of homelessness in England was £1 billion (gross) a year in 2012. (Crisis)
WE MUST ACT NOW or these figures will RISE.
London has nearly 3 million sqm of commercial floorspace (12 x Westfield in Shephards Bush) that has been empty for over two years. Vacant commercial buildings are presently used profitably by companies which provide pop-up style housing aimed at young professionals.
On top of this, there are 2,700 hectares of available land. The use of empty land as meanwhile housing for the homeless is already bearing fruits, with projects launched with Council support: Be First in Barking and Dagenham, PLACE/Ladywell ‘pop-up village’ in Lewisham and Project Malachi in Ilford among others.
We would like to draw on such models. Meanwhile habit looks at occupying London’s vast empty commercial buildings for use as habitable, self-supporting housing for the homeless. It will utilise sites until they are required for other needs.
Our proposal couples the housing accommodation with a symbiotic co-working space for entrepreneurs, creatives and start-ups, event spaces, meeting rooms – all for hire - and a café. These facilities will have separate access. They will provide a financial revenue stream for the housing.
The relationship between the housing and co-working space will eventually provide transfers of knowledge and skills through workshops, mentoring schemes, job training and education programmes on site that will be beneficial to members of the co-working space and, more importantly, enable residents to up-skill.
We will be building a community within a community. This will help previously homeless and perhaps isolated residents acclimate to a more socialised mode of co-living and working.
We are aware that change, and indeed a project like this, will not happen overnight, but feel it is our professional duty to generate socially minded ideas.
We hope that our project will raise awareness and encourage other architectural practices to collaborate with us. It is entirely doable, and it is our duty to act soon!