Most progress toward ending homelessness is accomplished during the day. The day center complex is a business-hours refuge for homeless populations seeking one-stop services. Services include counseling, provisioning, meals, personal hygiene, mail delivery, job search, light medical assistance, and shelter. The center incorporates best practices in ‘trauma-informed design’, accounting for a population that routinely suffers criminal transgressions and personal indignities.
Still a developing sub-discipline in care facility urbanism, four key principles guide the trauma-informed approach. The center should be restorative, welcoming and inviting, governed by an ethic of hospitality. Since being ‘indoors’ can be stressful for homeless individuals, the day center offers a variety of indoor/outdoor and public/private spaces without compromising staff’s need to monitor clients’ behavior. The complex should be perceived by clients as a safe, calming, and equitable place “spatially available” to all. And the day center should incorporate connections to the natural world since vegetation, natural light, and air provide important biophilic functions that reduce stress, enhance mood, and elevate sensory enjoyment.
Trauma-informed design demands a layered organization to accommodate varying degrees of engagement desired by users. Full engagement is sometimes a long-term process. The day center is one component in an ecosystem of nearby homeless service providers, including apartments and a new homeless transition village. The complex consists of an operations support building, a day center, a memorial grove to local homeless citizens who have passed, a community garden, an outdoor porch and mailbox kiosk, and bus stop/sitting area. This landscape of services extends to the interior to spaces for living, dining, laundry, a store for free-of-charge provisions, and showers. Just a mile from downtown, the complex’s urbanism projects familiarity by re-scaling domestic associations and other tropes of hospitality within the context of an institutional program along an auto-dominated arterial.
Finally, the day center projects a sense of dignity and orientation that stems from its economy of means, where frugality is important both economically and socially. Spaces are easy to navigate and invite further socialization. They offer opportunity for choice reinforcing individual’s sense of identity and autonomy within a cooperative setting. The facility’s massing and scale projects familiarity by re-scaling domestic associations and other tropes of hospitality within the context of an institutional program and its location on an unmemorable five-lane commercial corridor.
The University of Arkansas Community Design Center is an outreach center of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, and one of a few university-based teaching offices in the United States dedicated to delivering urban design work. Originated in 1995, the center advances creative development in Arkansas through design, research, and education solutions. Nationally recognized in public-interest design, the center has its own downtown facilities and 5-6 professional design/planning staff, some who also teach. Beyond the focus on urban projects, UACDC has developed eight place-making platforms to shape civic design and public policy at state and municipal levels. These interdisciplinary platforms include 'missing middle housing,' 'agricultural urbanism,' 'transit-oriented development,' 'context-sensitive street design,' 'watershed urbanism,' 'big box urbanism,' 'smart growth,' and 'low impact development,' vocabularies which are locally articulated but hold universal currency.