Homeless shelter gets makeover

Life has improved ever so slightly for the 130 men who sleep at the Salvation Army’s Safe Bay shelter every night.

(It’s part of the larger Harbor Light shelter operated by Salvation Army in downtown Minneapolis.)

Here’s what Safe Bay looked like before:


Here’s what it looks like now, after a recent renovation led by a team of volunteer architects and construction workers:


The old layout led to frequent fights and thefts, said shelter operations director Dominick Bouza.

“There was just no room,” he said.

Men slept on thin mats pressed up against each other. If someone got up at night to go to the bathroom, it was hard to avoid stepping on someone else.

“Then you’ve got a verbal altercation, then you’ve got a fight, and then you’ve got a third guy who sees all this and reaches over and steals one of the guy’s cell phones. That’s just the way it goes,” Bouza said.

Bouza said that he used to get two or three reports of theft each week from the men sleeping at Safe Bay. He hasn’t received a single report since the bunk beds were installed in late October.

It’s not just the layout, he said. People are more likely to respect each other when they aren’t sleeping on the ground.

“As soon as you raise that dignity level, people have a greater sense of self worth,” Bouza said.

That’s what the design team hoped would happen. They spent two days visiting the site and drafting plans as part of an annual Search for Shelter project organized by the American Institute of Architects.

Interior designer Rena Feldman, one of the team members, blogged about the effort:

We studied some precedents such as airports, boats and hostels, where space is tight but the sleeping arrangement is still comfortable and adequate. Our solution was to build quad bunk beds with dividers and small storage bins and space them out about two feet apart. It would comfortably fit one hundred and thirty sleeping beds plus a small lounge area.

In a few hours, the bunk beds will be full. They’re full every night – as is the entire shelter, which holds upwards of 500 people.

As Bouza puts it, “Basically, this is a small town in one building.”

(Photos courtesy of the Salvation Army)

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