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Tiny Houses for Portland’s Homeless Population

Project Statement

Project Statement:This is a project that is aimed to help provide shelter for those without homes. A report in 2016 stated that there were over 13,000 homeless people in Oregon, 60% of these people unsheltered. In Portland specifically there are over 4,000 people without a place to live. Portland has a few shelters but not nearly enough for its homeless population. Besides having a lack of space, many of these shelters do not provide a space for its occupants to keep their belongings safe and things often get stolen. I propose creating little individual shelters that can help those who have been turned away from shelters and need a place to stay. These little shelters would not be that big and would mainly consist of a bed / cot and some sort of locking cabinet to keep the occupants belongings safe when they are out. These little shelters need to be able to withstand Portland’s changing seasons and need to be made out of inexpensive materials. Designing different sized shelters will be important because many of the homeless population aren’t on their own and are with their partner, kids, or pets. Ideally, these shelters could be easily portable so the city could move them if needed.  

Users: The homeless population that occupies downtown Portland.

Needs: Temporary housing that would provide shelter and potentially storage for those who do not have that. Portland’s weather changes drastically each season. We have summers that are hot, cold winters that are both wet and dry and then we have lots of rain in the spring. These shelters would need to be able to keep the occupants warm and dry but still be able to keep them cool in the summer time.

Insights: The materials used are ideally going to be inexpensive and should not be too hard to assemble. There needs to be some sort of opening for light and fresh air. There would be a bed that can fit 1 or 2 people and some sort of lockable cabinet for storing belongings. Ideally these little shelters would be easily portable if they needed to be.

Client Interviews

On Sunday March 17th, I had a drive for my service project that I run called Socks and Sandwiches where we get together and make around 150 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches then we go to downtown Portland and hand them out to the homeless population.  I decided that I would ask some of the people who I gave sandwiches to a question or two. The questions that I wanted to ask were as following –

Do you know where you will be sleeping tonight? (If the do, ask where)

How have your experiences in the shelters been? (if any)

Many of the people who I handed sandwiches to were thankful for the food but declined when I asked if I could ask them a question. Out of the responses that I got, many didn’t really want their personal information recorded and just gave a name. I was unable to find families to interview but found a few groups of people.

Surge –  Had noticed that I had given him sandwiches before and asked me my name so he could give me a proper thank you. He said that the weather had been nice lately and so he had not bothered with trying to get into a shelter. He said that he was sort of a loner so being in the shelter with all the people isn’t always the best option for him. He likes to have all of his stuff with him and does appreciate the food and showers that he can get at a shelter.

Alex (and his friends) – They don’t like to go to the shelters because they might not all get to stay and could get split up. It is also hard to get into the shelters to begin with and they would be unable to keep all of their stuff with them. The weather is nice so they would probably just stay where they were (under the overpass by a Max (train) stop).

Mary – Said she would be sleeping in a shelter tonight but does not trust leaving her stuff there so she doesn’t bring much when she goes. She likes being inside.

Anastasia – doesn’t have the right connections / means of getting into a shelter.

Site Plan

The best place for my tiny shelters would be the Tom McCall Waterfront Park under the Burnside Bridge and connecting to the Skidmore Fountain MAX Station. There are many places throughout this park that I think could work but this would be a good spot to start. This is a Google Maps image of where I was thinking the shelters could go. This would be a good spot because yes, it is a public space, however since they would be located under part of the bridge, there is no worry of having a building built there. The shelters would not be in the way of the public’s use and this is generally a good / safe part of downtown Portland.

In these photos you are able to see all of the empty space that is on the other side of the MAX stop. Whenever I go by this stop, there are always a lot of homeless people who have camped out there with their tents. I think that it could be a good spot to put the portable shelters. Since it is under the Burnside Bridge there is good shelter and there aren’t any commercial buildings built there. The waterfront often hosts events but they do not happen on the portion under the bridge so the shelters would not get in the way.

Overview of my Design

Site Plan – Here is a rough drawing of what I envision the floor plan of my shelters looking like. I also made elevation drawings so you could see a front and side view of the shelters.



I also made a 3D model to convey some of my ideas and help me navigate the space that I created. It helped me to see where best to put the furniture and the best sizes for each piece. I made the model to scale which helped me figure out dimensions of my house in order to not make it the correct size while still making it cost efficient.

After I designed the model for the shelter I realized that putting the window in the front was not the best idea because the storage container inside blocks part of it. I also realized that I should have some sort of step that leads up to the front door so it is easier to get inside the shelter.

Final SketchUp Drawings

These drawings allowed me to play with materials of the shelter and allowed me to play with sizing easier than my 3D model could. It was helpful to see all of my visions of my work come through.

Final Thoughts

By doing this project I was able to think a lot about the community I live in and I got to think of a solution to a problem that affects not only the city that I live in but cities all over the world. I really enjoyed working with students from different places because they gave me feedback for things that I didn’t see myself. I had fun designing the shelter and I loved building my model. I would really appreciate it if you could fill out the survey link below. I had trouble imbedding it so its just a link.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfRXML7ueyvVlQ4QPPZG11xytWxG2oQ3OVlndR8OJdnLmHcbQ/viewform

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COMMENTS: 3
  1. April 27, 2019 by Claudia.Sheridan

    Hello Allison – I visited Portland recently and noticed the high homeless population. This is definitely a very important issue and one you seem passionate about. It is so cool that you were able to interview homeless while doing your service project. The addition of your 3D model is amazing and really supports your design.

  2. April 28, 2019 by Sheena Kwon

    This is a really cool idea and I liked how you were able to utilize the things you learned in your GOA to solve a big problem in your community! Tiny homes have gotten a lot more popular lately, and I’ve noticed how they’ve been praised on how efficient they are. I enjoyed how visual your presentation is and I liked the sketch you inserted. I’m wondering if there is a bathroom or some sort of waste system available in these tiny houses.

  3. May 02, 2019 by Francis.Davis

    Hi Allison, this is a really cool project! I think you are addressing an important national issue with this project. Did you do any research on how second chances like these help homeless people get back on their feet? Do you think that the city of Portland would be willing to pay for something like this? If not, who would?

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