IMAGINE LOSING everything you own. What if you weren't sure where your next meal would come from? How safe would you feel if there was no door to lock?
Understanding this perspective will give you a deeper appreciation for the mission of the Salvation Army who are focused on helping people who don't have resources.
Their programs support the homeless to transition back to better jobs and housing. They offer addiction recovery, veterans services and disaster relief. In fact, the Salvation Army's mission began over 150 years ago by an evangelist who wanted to offer practical help to the poor as he preached the Gospel.
While it began in England, the Salvation Army's work goes on in 128 countriesincluding across the United States.
DESIGN TO MEET THE NEED
In Conroe, Texasnorth of Houstonthe Salvation Army of Montgomery County opened the Wayne Bergstrom Center of Hope.
The original building which served the community was 30 years old and had the ability to house 40 people. However, as the population of the county grew, so did the need. The center was serving over 100 people. In addition, there was no space for families.
Sunday school rooms, dining rooms and conference areas were being used in the evenings as residences, then people would pack up so the spaces could serve day use.
"We were dealing with a larger need than we had building. It was obvious that we couldn't continue to handle the homeless population in that way," explains Major Don Wildish, who leads the Salvation Army's ef¬forts in Montgomery County and oversees the Center of Hope.
VISION AND PURPOSE
Turner Duran Architectsa firm with a long-standing history of working with non-profit organizations in Houston and surrounding communitiesprovided design for The Wayne Bergstrom Center of Hope. "In our initial meetings, the owner clearly articulated the vision for the project," shares Jack Duran, partner at Turner Duran Architects. "The purpose of this program is to provide individuals and families with comprehensive, supportive services which will enable them to return to independent living and to obtain employment. It was important to the owner during the visioning/pre-design sessions that the new facility accommodate not only men and women, but also families, into an inviting and welcoming environment and that the exterior blend aesthetically and compliment the surrounding neighborhood community."
The 15,758-square-foot Center of Hope accommodates 64 men, 48 women and four families. The expanded facility will also allow the corps to expand its educational services, day shelter and feeding program.
The building has three separate wings; one each for men and women, and one wing for families.
"Unique to this facility is the family suite component," shares Duran. "Each family room is large enough to accommodate four twin beds. In addition, each family room is outfitted with a large private bathroom. The new facility can accommodate twice as many homeless occupants than previously could be housed by the existing facility. And, unlike the existing facility, this one is handicap accessible."
DESIGN FOR SAFETY
"Safety was important in the design. Many of the people the center serves are coming from abusive family situations, so a lot went into creating a safe environment," explains Wildish.
The design allows a flow of people with¬out bottlenecks in circulation, but also with the control that supports a safe environment.
Access to each wing is controlled by a security desk manned twenty-four hours a day. The building had to be easy to exitsuch as in case of firebut it also required a feeling of safety which is provided in the separation of the wings and in video surveillance of exits and entrances with personnel to support it.
"During the design process, I was able to meet with many of the homeless occupants in the community," tells Duran. "I learned that the homeless face adversities in the street context, with risk of physical and sexual abuse, and were seeking shelter in hopes of minimizing difficulties experienced." After listening to their personal stories, Duran felt compelled to design a unique facility that met their needs and provided a sense of safety, security and community.
DESIGN WITH VOLUNTEERS IN MIND
"Not only is the design user-friendly and practical, it is also beautiful," offers Wildish. "Our volunteers talk about how well the building is built. How easy it is for people to come in, sit down and eat. How easy it is for them to serve. It makes their experience that much more enjoyable."
The ministry of the Salvation Army receives strong support from the churches in Montgomery Countyin fact, it is the churches that come to serve lunch every day of the year.
"The churches will either prepare the food, bring it into the center and serve, or they will bring the ingredients and prepare it here 365 days out of the year. We also have church¬es come prepare and serve dinner," says Wildish. "So, in our facility, we have a large amount of volunteers. There is now more elbow room to cook, serve and move around. All of the comments are about the space and about how much this has been needed."
DESIGN FOR PEOPLE
Of course, the power of the Center of Hope is in the impact it has with people.
"One day, I went back into the TV lounge," shares Wildish. "A mother came out of the rooms who had been in the former shelter. She sat down next to me and started crying. She said, I'm so grateful for what I had, but this is beautiful. My children have a place to come back to.'"
Like many mothers who find themselves homeless with their kids, the breadwinner for this woman's family had left, leaving her to face eviction when she couldn't pay rent. The Salvation Army met her very immediate need by providing housing, but they also helped her get to a better paying job. She has since graduated from the program and has an apartment for her and her sons.
"It's stories like that," shares Wildish. "As I walk into the Center of Hope, I'm never in a hurry. I just sit down, and I listen. People want to tell me about what their life was and how they are being impacted in a positive way. I can't say it enough. Thank you to all of the people in Montgomery County for the support in turning this Center of Hope from a dream to a reality."