New London Architecture

Providing Shelter: Designing out homelessness

Monday 22 May 2023

Miranda MacLaren


Miranda MacLaren, Director at Morris+Company, summarises the key discussion points and findings from our recent Designing Out of Homelessness webinar.

The Homelessness Problem:

All members of the panel unanimously agreed that the housing crisis within the UK is having a seriously detrimental impact upon our society. 

In London alone, an unprecedented figure of one in 58 people were homeless in 2022 as outlined by Shelter’s Director of Campaigns, Policy and Communications Osama Bhutta.

Alex Denvir the GLA’s Senior Project Officer, Rough Sleeping presented interventions created by the GLA that have seen some improvement on the reduction of rough sleeping within the capital. However, Alex highlighted that rough sleeping was just a small fraction of London’s homeless population with a greater proportion of people living in emergency and temporary accommodation.  Corroborating, societal instability, socioeconomic and a distinct lack of affordable housing must be tackled in order that homelessness may be eradicated.

Emergency Accommodation:

Miranda MacLaren, Director at Morris+Company presented their approved scheme for the London Borough of Newham’s Emergency Family Accommodation as an example of best practice, and to highlight that quality design provision and procurement is a viable, dignified steppingstone out of homelessness and a solution that could counter the national issue of poor quality emergency accommodation.  

Emergency Accommodation is a complicated planning journey as there is currently no planning use class, and as such no guidelines or qualitative standards. Emergency accommodation is, or should be, a ‘home’ for several weeks before residents transition into permanent accommodation. As such the building must be a safe, supportive environment that is managed but non institutional with a building programmatic that focus’ on the resident experience. Morris+Company’s scheme is designed for families, and as such their design decisions put the family unit front and centre, with a central playground courtyard and shared kitchen and lounge spaces for families to spend quality time together. Miranda highlighted that in response to this project Morris+Company are working on a collaboration with a number of public and private sector stakeholders to define and benchmark a set of qualitative design guidelines and standards for emergency family accommodation.

Panel Discussion: What are the solutions?

An insightful panel discussion proceeded, kicked off by Rosie explaining the great work Camden are doing to eradicate homelessness, she stated ‘homelessness can't just be seen in one organization or one project. It must be seen as a system, so we bring in the NHS, we bring in Drug and Alcohol Services, we bring in the Department of Work and Pensions, women's groups and a psychologist to work in the team and work in rounded way with people”. The cost-of-living crisis has meant that the duration of a residents stay within the London Borough has doubled time due to the lack of supply of both emergency and permanent affordable housing.  Ossama highlighted “we have become maladjusted as a society to food bank homelessness and must not accept this for our society and put all our voices to ensuring that we have affordable homes and living costs, and to do that we need to build permanent high-quality homes that we can all be proud of”.

Questions from the audience, sparked provocations surrounding private development – good and bad market opportunities, with the panel responding that in order to tackle this problem it needs to be a shared approach and a collaboration between private developers, local authorities, and not for profits. Also, the audience questioned the re use of existing, empty buildings stock as a solution. The panel agreed this was a good approach however the costs of conversion or retrofitting could be a prohibitive solution, but one of the many needed to resolve this crisis. 

The discussion ended with an important question to each of us What is the biggest barrier, biggest challenge to eradicating homelessness?

Alex: FUNDING, the grant rates have not kept up with the cost of delivering and building housing. During the pandemic there was the will and we temporarily eradicated homelessness, if the will is there it can be achieved through capital and revenue funding.

Rosie: WORKING TOGETHER, statutory or non-statutory and supporting residents to be integrated and to talk to each other - an appealing challenge for local authorities and governments because it doesn't necessarily need to cost us anymore to just work better together. There is currently too much reliance on the private sector we need to find a better balance.

Osama: INVESTMENT, from central government, we need 90,000 social homes per year, which is 1% of the GDP – which poses the question, what’s more important than someone’s home?

Miranda: A LONG-TERM VIEW to create improved systems. We need to create more social housing but also on a granular level we need to create a use class for emergency accommodation and to deliver a set of standards that must be adhered, to ensure quality and dignity for people who need assistance into permanent accommodation.

Miranda MacLaren





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