Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Community Supported Shelters - the latest for the homeless

Community Supported Shelters in Eugene, Oregon

GUEST BLOG: Tod Schneider is an old friend and has posted blogs here on CPTED in schools. Since then we have posted many blogs on homeless issues such as homeless reduction and tactical urbanism in Portland. Here, Tod shares his latest innovative work on homeless shelters. 

Tod Schneider, Executive Director, Community Homeless Shelters

Most homeless camps have a bad rap for good reasons: they’re poorly designed, if designed at all; they’re under-funded if they’re funded at all; they’re managed by people unequipped to manage at all; and they’re sheltering primarily people who are wrestling with severe life crises. 

Community Supported Shelters is different. We have an approach that works. We shelter people with few resources who would like help pulling their lives back together. Our effectiveness is reflected in the widespread support we receive from the homeless population, the advocate community, the police, and the local government. 

Although NIMBY continues to be a challenge, we even have widespread support from the general public, reflected in the $350,000 in private donations we received last year. Here are the key ingredients that work for us: 

The homeless have a place for their animal friends

  • The Conestoga Hut. It looks decent, which is important if you don’t want to offend the neighbors, as well as if you want to feel happy coming home at the end of the day. The raw materials cost under $1500. It can be built in a matter of hours. We sell hundreds of hut manuals and templates every month to motivated advocates handy with tools. The hut is attractive, well insulated and lockable. Residents feel safe locking their stuff up so they can go live their lives during the day. 
  • Camps. We cluster the huts into camps. Camps include port-a-potties, trash service, recycling, kitchen sheds, wood-heated commons sheds, solar recharging stations for cell phones, and 6 to 20 huts. Gardens usually sprout up as well. The camps are fenced and locked. Many homeless camps consist of tents that can’t be locked, in clusters that can’t be protected. This allows the severely disturbed, intoxicated, or dangerous homeless to terrorize everyone else. Camps need securable huts and fences, just like the housed need lockable doors and solid walls. 
  • Communities. Equally essential is how a camp is managed. Everyone we welcome is screened, but not in the usual way. We’re not doing background checks. We don’t bar people with criminal convictions or bad credit histories. Our applicants mostly self-screen. We explain that they are applying to be part of a mutually supportive community. They have up to a year of free rent, mutual support, staff support recovering from trauma, and navigation assistance in connecting with essential services as part of their life-improvement plans. 

Home should not be a street - photo Kate Harnedy

Many people start out needing help with basic needs: replacing lost I.D., lost teeth, and lost dignity, making supportive friends or finding a decent meal, getting used to people looking them in the eye, or calling them by name. 

Two out of three of our campers move on to better circumstances in less than a year. We started with one hut, next to a church, in a wary community. We added three camps over the next half dozen years, and support started to grow. In September 2020, the local government, having seen our effectiveness, came to us with enthusiasm, pulled out their checkbooks and funded five new camps. We’ll be sheltering 160 people in 8 camps by somewhere around Valentine’s Day. 

To learn more about CSS, visit our website, or email:

Thursday, January 21, 2021

"Crime is common - logic is rare"

Solving community problems through diagnosis and logic

by Mateja Mihinjac

The above quote from Sherlock Holmes brings to mind a question we ask municipal leaders: How do you most often respond to crime? They typically describe hiring more police or installing CCTV. They are mystified why these cookie-cutter solutions work so rarely to ensure safety. 

I've recently gone down a rabbit hole, binge-watching the Netflix docuseries Diagnosis. The main premise of the series is crowdsourcing diagnoses for rare medical conditions to help investigate their root causes. It sounds logical – to effectively address the ailments, we need to understand the causes that lead to symptoms and their unique manifestation in an individual and not simply suppress the symptoms with common drugs.

In crime prevention, we often draw parallels with the medical approach to problem-solving. Yet, in practice, we rarely enact this as we don’t give sufficient emphasis to diagnosing the problem – instead, we often apply quick generic solutions.

Complicated problems like homelessness require diagnosis 


Consider this: Recently one of our SafeGrowth practitioners experienced an influx of homelessness in his community. The number of thefts and burglaries increased in the homes around his street. He thought it was connected to the homelessness situation, but he was uncertain. He didn’t want to blame disadvantaged people, but he had no idea how to proceed.

Too often we see knee-jerk responses to complex problems. Arrest the homeless? The police tell you they cannot simply arrest without cause and arrest is not the solution. Move the homeless away? But where do they go, where did they come from, and why are the numbers increasing now? 

Install security lighting, cameras, and target hardened fences? Quick generic “solutions” like these move the problem from one house to another. Further, it makes the neighbourhood look like an armed camp.

Simple, generic solutions can create neighbourhood fortresses


In SafeGrowth we diagnose the problem before we develop solutions. We’ve previously written about simplistic approaches to crime prevention and the need for an integrative approach.

We recognize that each neighbourhood needs an individually tailored approach to identify problems and apply solutions, such as in the homelessness problem above.

We use neighbourhood teams and train them about the importance of understanding the problem before developing solutions. Generic, one-size-fits-all, solutions (like security cameras), are no guarantee of a safe community.

Our approach is scientific and investigative. Our stepwise problem-solving process starts with Problem Identification and Problem Analysis.

Digging at the roots of a problem, not hacking at the branches


Problem identification is an essential step, yet it is often rushed or ignored. Teams identify what they already know about the underlying problems and what they still need to learn. For example, is the homeless problem above related to drug abuse, mental illness, lack of affordable housing, or poor home security? 

Teams formulate a series of hypotheses which they then test as they collect and analyse the information. For example: The reason homelessness has increased is due to increases in rents and a lack of affordable housing. Another example: Homeless increases result from an influx of street drugs in our city and the activities of a local street gang.


Problem analysis allows teams to collect and analyse information against each of the hypotheses, integrate the findings and then either accept or disprove the hypotheses. 

This systematic and evidence-based investigative process sounds complicated and time-consuming. But it is essential for the team to gain an in-depth understanding of the problems and their causes. That is why SafeGrowth teams are so successful in developing solutions that are tailored to neighbourhood needs. 

This is the best path to improve the quality of life for residents in which residents themselves feel they have a role. It is how we avoid ineffective cookie-cutter solutions that don’t work. It is also how we avoid building neighbourhoods that look like fortresses and reduce fear at the same time.

Our 21st Century neighbourhoods deserve no less. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Laneways - dreadful enclosures or neighbourhood assets?

by Mateja Mihinjac

Winter influences how we use our neighbourhood. Because of short daylight hours and cold weather, walking the neighbourhood is often an isolating experience. Current COVID lockdowns all across the world make these changes even more pronounced. All this affects the perception of safety of local residents, especially regarding residential laneways that may become risky movement predictors.


Residential laneways, also called alleys, back lanes or catwalks, are a welcome addition to the neighbourhood when they provide accessibility, shorten travel paths, and enhance walkability. They can serve as positive places for interaction.

Some blame these micro-places for increasing opportunities for crime. Research suggests that laneways can facilitate crime opportunities by contributing to increased levels of noise, property crime, antisocial behaviour and fear.

Yet others argue that laneway research shows improvements in social and environmental sustainability, which lead to better safety and perception of safety outcomes. Positive laneway design has a buffering effect on crime and vulnerable targets due to increased informal social controls stemming from higher levels of social cohesion.

Therefore, the question is not whether laneways have a place in the neighbourhood because they might trigger crime opportunities – laneways have many positive attributes that contribute to walkability and neighbourhood liveability. Rather the question should be how do we better design laneways and make them safe.


Many laneways are separated from neighbouring courtyards with high non-permeable fences that offer few opportunities for natural surveillance and interaction. Such laneways create tunnel-like gauntlets that are unattractive, especially at night. 

In addition to this, many laneways, especially in North America, are positioned along backyard residential garage areas intended predominantly for vehicles and rubbish removal. No wonder these laneways become a “no man’s land” and thus lead to safety concerns described earlier.

One of our project teams from a recent Calgary SafeGrowth training identified that residents were concerned with hiding spots, poor visibility in the dark, graffiti on tall fencing, and similar. Clearly, laneway designers must create open and attractive areas that pay attention to pedestrian use.  


The second issue is that the laneway debate centres exclusively around crime prevention. Little attention is given to larger issues such as the type of the laneway and neighbourhood structure. Conversely, much of urban design literature speaks to the importance of integrating multiple liveability indicators and considering safety as an integral rather than isolated indicator of laneway suitability. As architecture professor Kim Dovey says, “I begin from the view that the urban public realm needs to be at once safe, accessible, vital, creative and democratic.”

Criminologist Paul Cozens believes that when the discussion centres around crime prevention alone, we make laneways hostile to human-scale design. In fact, he claims we can inadvertently “design in crime” while the residents become isolated from one another and from the outside neighbourhood.

When our Calgary team spoke to residents they found that the residents often referred to other quality of life concerns that affected their use of the laneways rather than safety concerns alone. Some of these included poor maintenance, tripping hazards, poor wayfinding, and integration of laneways with the street.

Again, this suggests we must consider laneways more holistically, not strictly with a crime prevention eye, and we must reconcile safety with other liveability indicators.


Despite the potential safety risks, there are many benefits of well-designed and well-functioning residential laneways. If designed well, they can further enhance community capacity-building and create a sense of neighbourhood.

There are some excellent toolkits describing how to accomplish these goals. They include a Turning Laneways into Public Places document and a Reimagine Catwalks Playbook. 

As we say repeatedly in SafeGrowth, what matters most is collaborative design with residents – not designing to or for them. This is how we use laneways, not as dreadful shortcuts and fear-inducing places, but as shortcuts for building the neighbourhood.