Shelter for All: A Note from the Fellows

The Urban Design Forum’s 2018 Forefront Fellowship, Shelter for All, addressed the homelessness crisis in New York City by examining how to dignify the shelter system through better design and exploring the root causes of homelessness and housing precarity. Fellows developed original design and policy proposals on how to address the prison-to-shelter pipeline, public bathrooms, public realm management, supportive housing, and racist housing policies, which we are pleased to publish alongside interviews with leading experts.
Read the full compilation of Shelter for All proposals and interviews here.


By Nova Lucero and Emma Silverblatt

This work is not original. For decades our unhoused neighbors have been mobilizing their own efforts to create permanent affordable housing for those living in NYC shelters, drop-in centers, overcrowded apartments, and on the streets.

This work is not a solution to New York City’s homelessness crisis. The solution does not lie in our projects, although some of our work does reveal the deep roots of its cause. Over a year since our Fellowship’s conclusion, many of us have come to realize the value of this experience as an opportunity to learn about the entrenched systemic causes of homelessness, and to recognize how our actions are complicit in preserving them.

This is a call-in. To all of the architects, landscape architects, planners, developers, public officials, scholars, activists, lawyers, and journalists who live in New York City: it will take the effort of each of us to eliminate homelessness. But we must use our money, power, and positions in society to provide a platform for those directly impacted to lead the way. Our allyship lies in how we choose to use our resources, labor, and talents. If we make the choice to lift up the ideas, words, and efforts of those directly impacted, to respect their dignity as people who know best what they experienced and how to stop it, we can learn to aid the larger movement of peoples organizing for their liberation.

Thanks to the Urban Design Forum, our 2018-2019 Forefront cohort was able to research the homelessness crisis, spending the first half of the Fellowship directly observing New York City’s solutions with the Department of Homeless Services before developing the projects highlighted in this digital release. These projects take on major issues in homelessness: exploring how access to public infrastructure like bathrooms can mitigate harm, proposing new potential sites for supportive housing, highlighting the violent connection between shelters and prisons, and questioning the need for shelters entirely, positing instead the decommodification of housing, to reframe it as a human right.

In reviewing our work, please reflect on your relationship to White Supremacy and the patriarchy, and ask yourself, “How can I support real systemic change proposed by those who are impacted by homelessness?” In New York City, the African/Black, Latinx, immigrant, Trans and Queer youth communities are disproportionately impacted by homelessness, police brutality, and the health crisis of coronavirus. If you have paid attention to the riveting Black Lives Matters movement, then you know that we face a public reckoning. The actions you take, conscious or not, will disclose what side you are on.

Our Fellowship work reveals the levers of power, the decks stacked against our neighbors upholding an inequitable reality. We implore you to take advantage of not only the ideas here, but the connections we have made with those doing the work, the organizations we have learned from, and instead of proposing solutions for others, pass the mic to them.

We would like to share the words of New Yorkers quarantining in hotel rooms at this time, supported by the #HomelessCantStayHome GoFundMe campaign, who are calling on each of us to fund their permanent housing instead of violence at the hands of the NYPD. You can read their full statement here and donate to permanently house those New Yorkers currently homeless here:

“None of us want to go back to the streets. And none of us want to be warehoused in the shelter system while the system collects thousands of dollars a month off of us with no concrete movement toward permanent housing…We didn’t need security, or extensive services – what we needed was a room to stay safe. Many of us have gotten jobs and been able to be more healthy as a result of being in these rooms…We thank our fellow New Yorkers for their support during this time and call on our City to keep our people off the street and provide permanent housing to the homeless.”

Special Thanks
Thank you to all who shared their knowledge with us from the perspective of their own lived experience including Jamel Woods at City Beet Kitchens; Project Renewal’s Culinary Arts Training Program; Khalil Cumberbatch, formerly of the Fortune Society; and April DeSimone of Designing the We, who worked with us each day. A special thank you to the powerful leadership of those organizing to end homelessness: the members and organizers of Picture the Homeless, including Marcus Moore, Lynn Lewis, and Rob Robinson. We hope you will join us to support them and their organizations.

Thank you to the Urban Design Forum staff, especially Daniel McPhee and George Piazza, for their encouragement to dig deep and the freedom to be creative and bold. Te queremos.

Emma Silverblatt and Nova Lucero
Forefront Fellows