Portland State University

Portland State University

Portland, OR


PSU Architecture students contribute research, design, construction efforts to new village for homeless veterans

By PSUArchitecture
May 1, '19 6:51 PM EST

Homelessness among military veterans in Clackamas County is on the rise. According to the Clackamas County 2017 Point-in-Time Count of Homeless Individuals, the number of homeless veterans increased by 15 percent between 2015 and 2017. This year, however, a small group of homeless veterans in Clackamas County have a reason to celebrate. Instead of sleeping on the street or in unstable housing, more than a dozen military veterans are now safe and secure in their own tiny dwellings.

Those tiny dwellings make up the Clackamas County Veterans Village, a transitional shelter community for veterans. The village is the result of a collaboration between Clackamas County, Catholic Charities, Communitecture, City Repair, the Village Coalition, Lease Crutcher Lewis, Portland State University School of Architecture, the Center for Public Interest Design, partners in the City of Portland and Multnomah County, and others.

The Clackamas County Veterans Village contains 15 sleeping pods and plans to add 15 more. 

The pods were built using hundreds of wooden trusses that originally formed the 2017 Treeline Stage at the Pickathon music festival, which was designed and built by PSU architecture students and faculty in the Diversion Design-Build Studio course. 

“This place is a godsend,” said village member Kerry Berglin, a Vietnam War veteran who served as an Air Force Pararescueman from 1970 to 1982. “On the trail, you didn’t know if you were going to be woken up and told to move your camp. Here, you can go to sleep feeling comfortable.”

Todd Ferry, a co-founder of PSU’s new Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative and senior research associate with the Center for Public Interest Design at PSU School of Architecture, helped develop the village model as an alternative method of addressing homelessness. 

“Building on the success of the Kenton Women's Village, the Center for Public Interest Design was part of the team that led the creation of the Clackamas County Veterans Village,” Ferry said. “From concept through development, we were able to utilize feedback from the women at the Kenton Women's Village and apply what we learned to the design of the Veterans Village. The knowledge we gain from each village can be used to inform the next one.” 

In designing the residential areas of the village, PSU researchers arranged the sleeping pods into clusters, following recommendations developed by a graduate architecture master’s student whose thesis had focused on designing veterans housing. Shared facilities include a large kitchen, bathrooms and showers, laundry, a TV lounge and meeting space where veterans can talk with their caseworkers and other service providers. 

Communitecture, the project’s architect of record, based the tiny dwellings on an original design by SRG Partnership known as the “S.A.F.E. Pod,” each of which utilizes 21 trusses. The sleeping pods come with a bed, interior storage space, operable windows and a porch with a built-in seat. Some of the pods have been adapted to meet ADA standards.

“The pods are nice,” Berglin said. “They’re kind of small ... but it’s just right for sleeping or reading. The thing is, each one of these you can lock the doors, and [there’s] the fence all around the place. So you’ve got a lot of security and a lot of privacy.”

Olivia Snell, a graduate of PSU’s Certificate in Public Interest Design, helped design the Treeline Stage and later contributed to building the sleeping pods. 

“While we were in the construction process ... it was really rewarding to see that those trusses were getting transformed into a sleeping pod,” Snell said. 

Even the Treeline Stage was designed with shelter in mind, she added. 

“We tried to create these little sanctuaries behind the stage for people to linger, and socialize, and provide this little place of refuge,” Snell said. “Whether it was providing shelter at Pickathon, or providing shelter in the pods themselves, that was kind of a concept for us through the whole design process.”

In October 2018, the veterans moved into their new community and began receiving individualized services, including skills-based training. Since the village opened, three veterans have already moved into permanent housing, according to village manager Americo Hernandez of Do Good Multnomah, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving homeless veterans. Some of the village members are now working or attending college as they prepare to move to their own apartments.

Asked about the most rewarding aspect of developing the Clackamas Veterans Village, Marta Petteni, a Center for Public Interest Design designer, said it’s the social aspect. “The impact that architecture can have on changing people's lives was very important,” Petteni said. “Pods are the proof that even very small projects and architectural pieces can actually have a powerful impact and change people's lives.”

Clackamas County Veterans Village