A New Homeless Housing Solution: Community Transition Centers

Today, I’m excited to announce a new civic innovation with Community Transition Centers. It’s a concept that the team at A Better San Francisco has been working on for months. And if successful, it could forever change how homelessness is perceived in communities.

Did you know, almost 80% of people who suffer homelessness in a given year get back on their feet within 6 months?

That means the majority of people who are homeless at any given point are not that different than you or me. Now how does that match up with your general perception of homelessness? Wildly different right! And it’s a wildly different solution to help this barely-homeless group of people when compared to the general homeless population. A solution that doesn’t currently exist.

Until now.

View from the entrance of a Transition Center

Community Transition Centers

A Community Transition Center (CTC) is a temporary housing solution, which provides onsite vocational schooling, counseling services, life-coaching, food, clothing, entertainment, computer training, daily programming, transportation, and community service / workforce opportunities.

Basically everything you could need to get your life back on track. But that’s just what a CTC is on the surface.

CTC’s differ than other homeless housing solutions because they allow individuals to work their way out of homelessness through community service work.

That concept might seem insignificant, but I believe it’s pivotal to re-shaping how homelessness is perceived in the world. First, because it helps homeless people see themselves in a positive light again, contributing to a community, re-integrating and being accepted. And second, because it helps the overall community to re-accept the homeless and see them as a positive factor in their neighborhood.

One of the biggest hurdles with homeless housing solutions is NIMBYism, or the Not In My Back Yard argument. This comes from the fear most people have with having homeless people living nearby. People are concerned about safety. People are concerned about drugs. People are concerned about crime. And because of this, it’s become almost impossible to build new homeless shelters almost anywhere.

But with CTC’s and the community first approach, we are able to get around NIMBYism. That and because CTC’s will be the first homeless housing solutions to restrict who can join… more on that below.

The Details

CTC’s have a lot going on — everything needed to help people transition from a bad life path to a better one. Full services include an on site computer lab, co-work space, dining hall, kitchen, donation center, car share, bike share, community garden, bathrooms, lounges, laundry room, showers, and free WiFi throughout.

Many of these amenities are open to the public, which we hope will draw people from various communities similar to other public space projects.

CTC’s house up to 125 people, including faculty, such as life coaches, caseworkers, teachers, and workforce specialists. Everyone lives in the same place. Everyone gets their own mini-house. Ideally if you went for a visit, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a CTC resident or a service worker, because it’s a very horizontal environment. Another crazy concept I know. But trust me, this works. I’ve seen it! It’s just different than what you’re used to.

Similar to Americorps, we believe this integrated live/work model will have the most impactful results. First it ensures excellent living conditions on-site. Secondly it ensures everyone gets the constant help they need the moment they need it. And lastly, it builds a peer based mentorship/support model, which research shows is the best at helping people.

“If successful, it could forever change how homelessness is perceived in communities as we know it.”

I know what you’re thinking. But wait, isn’t it dangerous to live with homeless people?

Yes, many homeless people are very dangerous. Many suffer from addiction and severe mental illness. Many are a danger to society and themselves. However, CTC’s will not be accepting any of these individuals.

Unlike previous homeless solutions, CTC’s will only be accepting people who can pass a drug test and a psychological review. Say What??? Yes, that’s correct.

Think of it, if the majority of homeless people are like you and me than why can’t they be treated and respected like you and me.

This concept of a horizontal homeless solution didn’t come out of nowhere, Camp Unity Eastside in Seattle started it and has been running one of the most innovative homeless solutions in Seattle for years. I know because I visited Camp Unity and slept in their homeless encampment for 3 days. That’s right, yours truly slept in a homeless encampment! And you know what, it was fucking awesome!

Which is the second biggest thing CTC’s will do differently to overcome NIMBYism — they will only accept individuals who can be trusted to ensure the safety of the neighborhood.


The team at A Better San Francisco believes CTC’s can operate at a near break-even cost. We are able to do this via multiple revenue streams we’ve built into the system combined with cutting most major costs.

We estimate the avg CTC to cost around $200,000 to setup and an additional $250/mo per person. With a 125 person center costing around $300,000/yr to operate.

Compare our $300k/yr number with what the avg a city spends to care for 125 individuals for a year — $1,000,000. That alone makes us a great solution. But CTC’s become even more compelling when we cost the city $0!

CTC’s generate revenue through onsite workforce programs which include on-demand workforce services, re-selling donated goods, UpWork.com freelancer opportunities and community donations for community service projects.

CTC residents also must pay a low monthly rent — either via cash (which they understandably may not have) or by enlisting in community service projects, which pay an hourly wage. No one can stay in a CTC without contributing back to the community in some way shape or form. CTC’s are not for those looking for handouts. They are for those looking for opportunities.


More controversy!

Sure, we could set up CTC’s in large buildings and make them take years to build. But wouldn’t it be awesome if we could build one at almost no cost immediately! I present to you — the outdoors CTC concept.

Full arial view of a Transition Center

Outdoor Community Transition Center’s can be built upon temporary land, similar to the community gardens of the past. Any land owner with a parking lot or large parcel can lease the lot to us for 1–5 years in return for a handsome tax rebate. We only use temporary structures and the entire site can be raised within 2 weeks. Because of this, we are able to avoid most government pitfalls that build up costs, as well as scale Transition Centers easily across America.

Again, this is a crazy concept and scares the F out of a lot of people. But again, I’ve seen it work with Camp Unity Eastside in Seattle. It’s awesome. And all they have its rinky dinky tents… We could do much better than tents, we could do geodesic domes!! Seriously though, Domes are the most affordable and durable homeless housing I’ve seen. Another option would be Shiftpods.

Final Notes

Along with shelter, food, safety, and other basic needs, CTC’s help people overcome the major mental blocks holding people back from fulfilling their potential. The biggest being depression, self-doubt, and the confidence to learn new skills. On my journey to learn about homelessness, I’ve seen this psychological shame be the primary factor stopping people from moving forward with their lives. We aim to help heal people from these traumas by building a healing and supportive environment, inspiring an ethos of community service, and training people on the skills necessary to make it in the digital world today, we believe we can achieve this.

Because we plan to build Transition Centers near neighborhoods, public safety is our top priority. Both substance abusers and the mentally ill are not accepted at our centers, as they jeopardize the safety and security of others.

We estimate Transition Centers can help up to 80% of people who have been homeless for up to 6 months and 30% of people homeless longer than a year.

If this is all starting to sound a little bit strange to you, that’s because all our homeless systems are so backwards today. Most things were created as a reaction to the issue instead of as a solution. Which is why in a lot of ways, our current homeless system causes as much harm as it does good.

If we started building solutions from scratch today, based on what we know now, I believe CTC’s would be at the heart of things. Shelters would be for those who need lots of special care and rehabilitation. And free housing with 24/7 support services would be reserved for individuals incapable of working and sustaining themselves.

To learn more about Transition Centers, visit www.transitioncenters.org

To give feedback or become a part of the project, ping @StartupGreg on Twitter

Different views from inside Transition Centers