Architecture students create small shelters for Bozeman homeless

Tuesday, Nov. 29 marked the unveiling of the latest project from the College of Arts and Architecture: the Bozeman Small Shelter Project. The project, aiming to provide a temporary home for the chronically homeless in Bozeman, is the result of collaboration across the College of Arts and Architecture and the Bozeman community. The event, held in Cheever Hall, included life-size cardboard models of the houses. Small in size, (the handicap accessible shelter is 160 square feet and the standard shelter is 150 square feet) the shelters afford those without homes simple, but significant, accommodations. A few drawers for their clothes, a kitchen sink, a shower and a small bed are featured in the shelters designed by Ralph Johnson’s upper-level class of 11 architecture students.

The project’s objective, “an initiative to design small shelter’s that create safe and stable, long-term shelter for those who are chronically homeless and at high risk of dying on the street in Bozeman, Gallatin County and Montana,” made partnering with community members highly advantageous. Community member Connie Campbell-Pearson and Heather Grenier, Chief Operating Officer at Bozeman’s Human Resource Development Council (HDRC), provide the behind the scenes force for the Bozeman Small Shelter Project. While Campbell-Pearson found land for the homes, Grenier kept MSU connected to the needs of the homeless community.

Before the students even began drafting the houses, they met with members of Bozeman’s homeless community who spend time at the HDRC Warming Center. After consulting about their desires and needs, Johnson’s class thought critically about ways they could create a functional, considerate living space. Unlike other similar homeless villages across the country, the Bozeman small shelters are not uniform in appearance, and they include a small bathroom. Now, after a semester of planning, the students had the chance to present their designs to the community.

The handicap-accessible unit has easy shower access and enough room to get anywhere in their chairs despite the space restraints, graduate student Jafee Wilde explained. Students Ryley Enich and Jerome Steckler informed attendees about the towering display wall, realistically constructed with a window and insulation. The houses will be built to last with thicker walls, each adorned on the inside with small art. Painting and Drawing Guild members created a mural of different styles, materials and vibrancy that, viewed as a whole, depicts a smiling girl holding a fish. Guild President Elise Perpignano explained, “we wanted this art to show [the residents] that they’re welcome and part of this community, and we want them to notice something new every time they look at it.” Eventually, Perpignano wants to involve local schools and groups in this community art project.

The collaboration in this project won’t stop here, Johnson explained. If the Bozeman Small Shelter Project receives funding, students will have the opportunity to be involved in the building process. They intend to continue drawing on the city of Bozeman’s small businesses, local contractors and nonprofits to make this impressive project a reality.