As anyone who has volunteered in a soup kitchen can attest, they're typically not a place that you want to spend an extended amount of time. Homeless shelters are designed as a stop-gap; a helping but temporary hand for those in need until they can get their feet back on the ground, according to TriplePundit.
Unfortunately, the majority of these kitchens/dormitories across the country have bleak environs. Whether they are government or independently run, budgets are small. The buildings themselves are often reused space from churches or warehouses that have already out-served their initial purpose. Under deathly fluorescent light, on broken-springed mattresses in a windowless room, finding hope can be a struggle.
Those of us in the green community constantly eschew the virtues of an upfront investment that pays itself back in time through energy savings. Why shouldn't a homeless shelter follow those same principles? Furthermore, (hopefully) the generally bright decor of most green buildings serves as an inspiration and instills pride and motivation in those who stay there.
A new $6 million shelter in Charleston, S.C. is being built and will be operated by nonprofit Crisis Ministries. The structure will feature rainwater collection, LED lighting and vaulted ceilings with carefully placed windows and awnings to maximize winter heating and summer cooling. The building committee is shooting for a silver LEED certification for the 28,000 square foot building.
It turns out Charleston isn't home to the first shelter to go green. The Austin (Texas) Resource Center for the Homeless boasts the distinction of being the first LEED-certified shelter. The $5 million, 25,000 square foot building was built largely using concrete mixes with flyash (a coal-fired power plant byproduct) instead of Portland cement.
Up the road in Dallas, a shelter called 'The Bridge' has already demonstrated the tangible positive effects a green approach can have. Lauded by the American Institute of Architects with their 2009 National Housing Award, the crime rate in the surrounding neighborhood is down 18 percent since its 2008 opening.
For more information, see our Building a Green Home research center.