seven people standing together around a sign reporting new housing units, all smiling, some holding shovels

Cool Course: How to Address Homelessness in Your Town

It’s common to hear people say that housing is a human right, yet by many estimates over half a million Americans experience housing insecurity every year. “It’s time to create a groundswell of interest in this topic in this country,” says Charles Durrett, an architect, activist, builder of cohousing communities globally, and instructor of the upcoming four-week Continuing Education course at Antioch, “How to Address Homelessness in Your Town,” that begins on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. He says that homelessness harms our country and affects nearly every community across the nation. In his own work, he centers the needs of unhoused people, valuing their lives.

This mission ties through much of Durrett’s professional and educational work. And he believes that students will benefit from studying strategies and considerations around how to give the unhoused opportunities to have safe, stable housing. Because without housing, our well-being suffers, and we are not able to thrive as we should.

(Starting April 13, 2022, Durrett will be leading another course for Antioch Continuing Education: “Cohousing—And Your Community”.)

A Vision for Action, Tested by the World

Part of why Durrett is excited to teach this course is because he has himself had success as an architect trying to address this issue. He was the lead architect for Valley View Senior Housing, a community of 70 cottages that were built in 2019 in a development organized by city government of American Canyon, a community in California’s Napa Valley. This complex was built as a solution for the problem of providing housing for older citizens and veterans experiencing homelessness in this area. 

Of course, Durrett hasn’t solved homelessness in a stroke. On the very first day applications were made available to sign up for a cottage in Valley View Senior Housing, 480 people signed up for the 70 available cottages. But in other ways, it was surprisingly successful, which the project’s backers attribute in part to getting community buy-in. “This project was accepted by all of the neighbors because of the process and the product,” says Brent Cooper, American Canyon’s Head of Community Development. And ultimately, helping these people become housed not only improved their quality of life but also saved the town money. Says Cooper, “State and local governments together spend $20,000-$40,000 every year on each homeless person. This includes hospital stays, incarceration, mental health care, and more.” With fewer unhoused people, these costs also went down.

In the aftermath of this success, Durrett wrote a book, which he titled,  A Solution to Homelessness in Your Town: Valley View Senior Housing, Napa County, California. He intended for it to be an inspiring guide to effecting change and addressing the critical issues of homelessness and unaffordable housing in readers’ own towns. 

By teaching this course, Durrett is expanding on the work yet more. Students will be studying the specific American Canyon project through lectures and also by reading the solution-oriented book. All of this seems particularly well-suited to a continuing education format, says Dr. Terry Ratcliff, the Dean of the School of Distance and Extended Education at Antioch. It will enable people already engaged in this work in their communities to return and gain education that is immediately applicable to their own towns. As Dr. Ratcliffe says, he’s excited “to get this information to people through Professional Development and Continuing Education.” 

Learning Based on Deep Experience

“This class is for anyone who is serious about providing houses for people who previously had none—in your town,” says Durrett. The course is appropriate for legislators, municipal employees, architects, non-profit organizations, planners, designers, urban volunteers, and all good citizens. Solving the homelessness crisis takes a community of supporters, leaders, and change-makers and Durrett intends for the course to encourage, motivate, and show attendees how they can be of service to make a real difference. 

“How to Address Homelessness in Your Town” will cover how to build a new project in your town, including a clear delineation of how to organize the effort and the various steps of getting a project built: from initial planning and motivation to site feasibility, management, and sustainability. From knowing the “why and the how” to discussing the scope of the problem and the state of homelessness in America to understanding the real costs of homelessness, this course intends to educate students to make a difference. 

Durett has built this knowledge over years of work as an architect at The Cohousing Company, a team of full-service cohousing consultants and leading experts. This firm has designed more than 50 cohousing communities, including low-cost multifamily units, in the United States and around the world. Durrett’s own work has been featured in Time Magazine, The New York Times, and Architecture, among other publications. He has won a number of awards, including the UN’s World Habitat Award and the Silver Achievement Award from the National Association of Home Builders 50+ Housing Council. 

Ultimately, Durrett aims to use this course to share his knowledge and expertise so that others can benefit from his examples and aid their own communities. This course is also more than simply planning and managing this unique sort of project, it is about all that creating housing for people who are experiencing homelessness entails: including community support, how housing can deepen personal relationships, and how housing impacts an individual’s life more than only providing shelter. Durrett sees this work expansively. He sees opportunities for change-makers to build meaningful bonds and creative relationships with city officials, administrators, and more, combined with the chance to create long-lasting change for a vulnerable population who need it most. This course will provide a range of valuable outcomes and in the end a roadmap to creating housing, networks, safety, and community.

(Starting April 13, 2022, Durrett will be leading another course for Antioch Continuing Education: “Cohousing—And Your Community”)

Georgina Marie Guardado is the Poet Laureate of Lake County, CA for 2020-2024, and a Poets Laureate Fellow with the Academy of American Poets. She is the Interim Executive Director of the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference and Literary Editor for The Bloom. She works as the Literacy Program Coordinator for her local library while studying Literature & Creative Writing at Antioch University Online.

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