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New design of Auckland City Mission aims to strengthen the city’s social fabric

How do you design for social change? This is the quest Steven Lawson architects is undertaking with the redesign of the Auckland City Mission’s Hobson St hub, slated to be finished by 2020. The charity’s premises in its current state is deemed ‘sub-standard’ and ‘not fit for purpose’, so its new design dubbed Mission HomeGround will transform it to better help those in need.

Auckland City Mission is a charitable organisation that was established in 1920 as a focal point for Auckland’s most vulnerable communities. But its location on Hobson St that it has been homed in for the last 38 years is no longer considered fit for purpose, so for the next two years, it will take up temporary residence around the corner at Union St while its premises is redesigned by Steven Lawson Architects.

“A community can flourish only when its most vulnerable are treated with compassion and dignity, and when effective methods and resources are applied to restore their mental and physical wellbeing,” Auckland City Missioner Chris Farrelly says. “This is the purpose of HomeGround. We trust all Aucklanders will help us realise this vision.”

The redevelopment will be called Mission HomeGround and will be a new-and-improved version of the Mission’s existing services, with 24/7 services and up to 80 tenants housed on-site at the new building.

These tenants will be from the social housing register, with 40 studio apartments dedicated to the chronic homeless. There will also be public showers and toilets, a new medical centre and pharmacy, the new addition of a social and medical detox unit with 30 beds, a large eating area for serving meals and even a dental practice.

Spaces will also be created to allow for commercial and social enterprise opportunities to grow out of the hub.

The design of Mission HomeGround will be based on The Common Ground Model, a housing model which successfully operates in New York, Australia and Canada. This model helps bring together a high-density mix of people in a managed apartment building and offers spaces for community development, living skills and training activities, helping tenants improve their lives through art, education, health, social services, sport and fitness, as well as employment and volunteering.

Common Ground’s six principles
  • Permanence: there is no time limit on leases for formerly homeless tenants. • Safety: a 24-hour concierge restricts entry to the building.
  • Supportive: social services are provided on site at no cost to the tenant.
  • Integrated: projects normally house a mix of both formerly chronically homeless tenants and low income earners.
  • Affordable: rent is charged to all tenants at less than 30 percent of income.
  • Quality: Buildings incorporate sophisticated design and high environmental ratings.

Although no details have been released on the interior of the building could look like, Jill Pable writes on Fast Company that physical spaces affect human moods, behaviours, and how people view themselves, and it’s no different when it comes to homeless shelters.

A shelter with sterile corridor and glaring lights may silently send the message that, “People don’t think you deserve a nice place to live”, while ones with warm colours, thoughtful lighting and useful signage, on the other hand, can send the opposite message: “Someone cares”.

This all feeds through to the Auckland City Mission’s ultimate mission: to end chronic homelessness in Auckland.

Steven Lawson Architects says alongside the Auckland and Waitemata District Health Boards, Mission HomeGround’s creation will increase service in central Auckland by 50 percent, with 250 admission and 1835 additional bed stays.

Demolition of the site has now begun and foundations are being laid for the new site. It is due to be completed in 2020.

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