Driving around after a visit to the farmer’s market last week, I stumbled upon a building that caught my interest. I asked a man on the street what the attractive brick-and-pane-glass complex was, and he told me it was a shelter, called The Bridge. He lived there, and said it was a nice place.
I was caught off-guard for three reasons, the first being that this sleek collection of buildings looked more like a corporate headquarters or a private high school than a shelter. Secondly, this man seemed to be proud of his homeless shelter. That struck me as odd.
Then came my third surprise — the ‘Aha!’ moment. Over Christmas, visiting family in Charleston, SC, my cousin roped me into volunteering with her at a local food shelter there. The buzz around that place, Crisis Ministries, was the upcoming groundbreaking of a new LEED certified center, at a cost of $6 million.
It seemed questionable that a city, especially one in the not-so-rich deep south, would be spending so much money on its homeless population. Any questions I had about the merits of dropping that kind of dime on the needy were alleviated after my discovery of The Bridge in Dallas.
Opened in 2008 through a public/private partnership with the city government, The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center has proved itself to be THE national model for what a homeless shelter can be. Beginning with the American Institute of Architects 2009 National Housing Award, the 3.5-acre site has collected a string of accolades, including LEED silver certification (it’s the largest shelter with that distinction in the nation).
The building features a green roof over the dining room, an expansive courtyard (not unlike the one at my high school), and extensive gray water recycling. It’s also been colorfully decorated with installations by artists from the surrounding community.
And why not? By bringing culture and creativity into the shelter, The Bridge emphasizes the connection between the occupants and society outside, and vice versa. Crime rates in the surrounding neighborhood have dropped 18 percent since the shelter opened (to fully grasp that statistic, consider that the Bridge essentially consolidated 1,200 homeless daily users into the community, many with criminal and drug abuse backgrounds).
Even neighboring businesses speak positively about the shelter. “Ever since The Bridge opened right next door to my business, Millet the Printer, I’ve seen it impact downtown positively,” says Dan Millet, that company’s owner. “I’m proud to support their efforts. From a human perspective, we all want people experiencing homelessness to have help getting better; from a business perspective, The Bridge is a strategic investment in revitalizing the area.”
Mayor Mike Rawlings actually previously served as Dallas’ ‘homelessness czar,’ a position most cities don’t even have. He’s cited The Bridge as integral to Dallas’ status as a world class city, lauding the over a thousand people that have been placed in permanent housing through the shelter in just four years. That’s in addition to over 1,600 job placements, a staggering feat that most cities would love to replicate.
Designed by Overland Partners and CamargoCopeland architectural firms, the Bridge had the advantage of a $23.8 million City Bond program passed in 2005 to help fund its creation. In an economy that has heavily faltered since then, it’s perhaps natural to question that type of spending on a population that will likely never show a tangible return on the investment. But consider the social welfare tax dollars that a Bridge occupant might use over a lifetime of homelessness, compared to the societal contributions (including monetary) that they’ll make if they get back on their feet.
That’s much harder to do in a dreary, overcrowded shelter where you feel unwanted. In many cities, people end up back under the bridges and behind shopping centers because there’s too much hassle, religion, and expectations in shelters. By giving the homeless a place they can take pride in, even going so far as to seek LEED certification, the Bridge empowers people to make changes for themselves.
Last May, The Bridge received the Gold Medal in the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, a recognition for its ‘excellence in urban placemaking’ that includes a $50,000 grant. Plans for that money include an outreach program to help other cities build and maintain similar facilities and programs, and a phase II expansion of The Bridge itself.
That’s good news for the needy, and great news for Dallas, as the nation’s leader in homeless rehabilitation.
Original Story by Tim Eyre, Interactive Marketing Manager with Extra Space Storages
In his role in the self-storage industry, Tim Eyre helps customers care for their cherished belongings that must be put in storage. Tim regularly visits his facilities, including a Dallas self-storage center. Tim also contributes to the Extra Space Storage Blog.