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THE CARE STATION – What if health was a human right?
During a pandemic, our lives get disrupted – physically, mentally, socially and economically. We are asked to “stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy” to protect ourselves and limit the contagion. But what does this mean for those who do not have a home and guaranteed access to resources? There are more than 150 million unhoused people in cities worldwide and half a million in the United States alone. Without permanent housing, many live in overcrowded shelters while most are living on the streets, making them one of the most vulnerable populations facing Covid-19. They also have few resources to support mental health, maintain hygiene to prevent illness, and have no place to go to recover when sick. It is not the virus, however, that created these unhealthy and inhumane conditions. These are social and economic fractures that have been present in our societies for decades – the virus just revealed and exacerbated them, making the already vulnerable populations more vulnerable. This moment should be a time for reflection and awareness - an opportunity for deep empathic and systemic change in which health will no longer be a privilege for few, but a right for everyone.
Within this framework, we propose the creation of a Care Station, a place to help vulnerable populations within our cities stay healthy, safe, and socially connected. The Care Station will rehabilitate a vacant housing building, one of many that emerges alongside the paradoxical increase in homelessness. The Care Station will have a central core characterized by basic hygiene services such as toilets, showers, and laundry, which are some of the most crucial amenities during a pandemic. The floor above will host a kitchen and a dining area to address food security, while the floor below will host beds and couches for people to sleep and rest. While guaranteeing physical health through the provision of basic essential services, these spaces will support psychological well-being through different degrees of social interaction- from individual meditation areas, to rooms for trauma-informed activities to safely organized, large communal spaces. Powerful info-graphics and wayfinding signage will be integrated into the overarching trauma-informed design approach in order to allow people to heal, relax and connect with each other while respecting the social distancing and hygiene measures of COVID-19. These simple visual aids and design nudges will help mitigate infection transmission by clearly conveying risk zones and by creating mental “anchors” for specific activities, and could be easily removed after the emergency. These spaces will merge with the outside world through big windows, patios, and a roof garden, allowing fresh air and natural light to become part of the building and the psyche. The building will have a vital role during the pandemic and a more critical role after, by offering quality spaces and services that promote health, human dignity and community building to those steadily in need.
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