The problem

In Atlanta

A 2011 report from the Metro Atlanta Tri-Jurisdictional Collaborative (Tri-J) counted 6,838 homeless people in the metro Atlanta area, DeKalb county, and Fulton county on a single night. The actual number is hard to gauge, because of the “invisible homeless” who live in cars or couch-surf, but some estimates are as high as 10,000 per night. Because many of these are homeless only temporarily, the total number of people who experience homelessness during a given year is even higher - there were 19,771 in 2011.

30% of those counted in the 2011 Tri-J census were living in transitional housing, and 35% were in emergency shelters, leaving another 35% unsheltered, sleeping on the street. These people have nowhere to go - the emergency shelters were at 90% occupancy, meaning that even if every bed in every homeless shelter was filled, there would still be 2,109 people on the streets on an average night. These numbers have varied by only a few percent since 2003.

In Barcelona

The situation in Barcelona is better, with only 1,500 homeless counted in a 2010 census: 850 in shelters and another 650 on the streets. This represents only a 5% increase from 2008, despite the drastic increases in unemployment rates. Ricard Gomà, the city’s second deputy mayor at the time, cited the “safety net of solidarity that people have with their extended families” as the primary factor in this success, but the city has also devoted significant resources to prevention. In 2005, the Ajuntament had only 4 full-time staff working with the homeless, but in 2010 the number increased to 50.

In The United States

The solution?

Meanwhile, office buildings across the city sit empty every night, often with lights and air conditioning left on, while thousands sleep on the streets. What if these spaces could become temporary homeless shelters, providing a safe place for the homeless at very low cost? How practical would such a project be? What risks would it involve?

Could these building be used as homeless shelters?

Let's Find Out!




Number of homeless
Homeless people per 1,000 residents
Homeless people per square mile


Homeless shelters in the U.S. must abide to the Homeless Emergency and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH)Act , as well as Fair Housing Laws and related Presidential Executive Orders. Please be sure to consult your local laws as well. More information can be found at the following page:





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Safety Guidelines

When the shelter is open, staff must be on duty. When on duty, all staff must be alert and attentive to the activities at the shelter. Sleeping when on duty is prohibited.

Shelters must ensure that residents are safe and secure within the facility. Entrances to the shelter must be secured against unwanted entry. Emergency exits must be equipped with an alarm to alert staff of unauthorized comings and goings.

All shelters must designate an evacuation site. Evacuation plans, which all staff are familiar with, must be in place and explained to each resident upon admission or as soon after as possible. Diagrams of the evacuation plans must be posted in plain sight on the walls and/or doors of all sleeping and communal areas.

Shelters must ensure that no environmental hazards such as chemicals and cleaning compounds are present. Hazardous materials and objects must be inaccessible to residents. People using the hazardous materials must be educated on the hazards associated with the products used, and the safe handling, storage and disposal protocol for the products.

Children may enter kitchen and laundry areas only when accompanied by an adult.

Mattresses must be covered with a flame-retardant and moisture-retardant material. Window coverings, upholstered furniture and any carpeting must be composed of materials that are flame-resistant and retardant.

Shelters must have a maintenance plan that clearly specifies the manner in which cleaning, preventive maintenance, emergency repairs, routine upkeep and long-term replacements are to be done.

Dangers in Homeless Shelters


Some homeless shelters are designed specifically for women and children; however, space is sometimes limited, and women are forced to choose between staying in a coed shelter or sleeping on the street. Both adult females and young girls stand the chance of being raped at night in some coed shelters. If the shelter is overcrowded, then staff and security can't keep an eye on everyone.


Not all homeless people are in the exact same situation: some are newly homeless while others have been on the streets for years. Homeless people who carry around a certain amount of possessions may be afraid to sleep in homeless shelters because others might steal the few items they still have. Human predators who literally have nothing may steal gloves, coats or tiny amounts of money from other people trying to get some sleep in the shelter.


Homeless shelters may lack proper security. When a roomful of tired, hungry and cold people get together, then it doesn't take much for one person to get out of line and for a fight to break out. People can get hurt or even killed when guns or knives are involved. Sometimes mentally ill people in homeless shelters who cannot afford their medication can lash out at others for no reason at all.

Sickness and Disease:

Since homeless people lack medical care, a homeless shelter can be filled with people with colds and the flu and other sicknesses. These people are sleeping in close quarters, so the odds of passing germs around the room is great. Some homeless people may not even realize that they have a disease -- sexually transmitted diseases, HIV -- and may pass the disease on to other people who they meet through unprotected sex or shared needle use.

Useful Software for Managing Homeless Shelters

There exists software that can help track important information related to residents, employees, volunteers, donors, etc. that can streamline operating a shelter.

Useful Contacts