Could co-housing help solve the homeless issues?

Did you catch the Fortune article asking “Can San Francisco be saved?” The article raises the point that for people without housing, there is no health. Unfortunately, the story gets worse.

Many medieval diseases [typhus, tuberculosis and likely Covid19 soon] are now showing up in the homeless populations and consequently, threatening the health of everyone else too. 

We have to deal with this problem because things are only going to get worse for everyone if we don’t.


I’ve been indulging my interest in design lately and attending lectures on architecture and home design. 

People are always curious about why I’m there. The answer is simply curiosity and interest. However, in conversation I mentioned was that I was interested in the intersection of housing and health as well as design and health.

As soon as you state a clear reason, people start sharing ideas and offering resources for potential solutions. Co-housing is one of the solutions that a really successful architect mentioned to me.

Co-housing incorporates all of the elements of a multi-generational community under one big roof. It includes both private and common spaces. Similar to corporate culture, shared values makes the co-housing community work.

It works for some and possibly in some cases, like addressing the homeless population. 


I spoke with a consultant who works with organizations on issues related to bias. She also volunteers with non-profit organizations that assist underprivileged women.

A short conversation with her is all you need to understand the flaws in our current approaches to addressing the homeless issue. Housing is important but it’s the first step in a relatively long process of helping people to re-enter society. The homeless population needs to be reoriented to living in a home so that they learn the proper use and care for appliances and learn the social norms of living in a residence.

Once the initial orientation period is complete, the hard work of addressing their underlying problems begins. Depending on the individual issues, people may or may not have the bandwidth to hold down a job.

We often think of dollars spent rather than dollars saved. However, professionals working with the homeless industry benchmark savings against inpatient hospital costs. The cost per day of properly serving the homeless is about five times [5X] less than a hospital day.

Plus think about the duration of the expense. No long term solution, no limit on the cost.

Preserve communities

What many of us don’t appreciate is that the homeless have a community and people who watch out for them. When they are placed in housing outside of their community, it creates additional problems and doing so may never help solve their original issues. 

We need to think about how to preserve those communities during their transition back into society. That’s why co-housing might be a good option.

The question that remains is given the limited supply of land and affordable housing in most major cities, how do we create these structures without building on golf courses, parks and other plots valued by others in the community.


Have you seen that HGTV design show about people living in repurposed firehouses, lighthouses and ships? 

I got hooked on HGTV during a family visit. Repurposing old cruise ships as transitional co-housing homes might be an answer. Many of the homeless are in cities along the coasts with real land constraints. 

Cruise ships have private rooms, commercial kitchens, large dining areas, outdoor space, medical facilities, gym and recreational areas. Plus it would be an easier way to scale up and if all goes well, scale down as demand falls. They seem to fit the bill.

With that said, we need to engage with the experts to generate ideas and develop a now-near and far strategy to address the homeless and shortage of affordable housing.

Employers need to be part of the long term solution because most people migrate to cities for work. With the quality and affordability of technology, there’s really no reason for people to move. We just need to open our minds to new possibilities.