Can vacant schools help the homeless?
- The death of a homeless Memphis woman during a recent cold snap is prompting new discussions about how vacant schools can be used to help the homeless, Chalkbeat reports.
- About 650 Memphis students are considered homeless yet the school district has 10 vacant schools that could possibly be targeted for “adapted reuse” to serve the needs of the community.
- Other communities across the nation have seen the conversion of schools into living space by developers or non-profit organizations.
In recent years, more abandoned school buildings have dotted the landscape. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 1,900 public schools closed during the 2010-2011 school year alone. In some areas, this is because of shrinking student populations and school budgets. In others areas, the decision to abandon a building may depend on the age and condition of the building and its ability to meet current health and safety regulations. In some cases, it is cheaper to abandon the school and build a more modern structure.
However, schools have a long history of use as a shelter. Because they are usually constructed with safety in mind, school buildings are a valuable asset during natural disasters. So it makes sense to consider whether or not these vacant schools can be used to solve problems for others in the community, especially as these schools often attract looters and vandals and continue to cost school districts money when they are abandoned.
Through the sale of property or community partnerships, other schools have seen schools converted into housing successfully. In Philadelphia, a vacant school was converted into housing for veterans, while a school near Daytona Beach, FL was converted into a family homeless shelter. And in Denver, the school board is considering converting a vacant building into housing for teachers. Considering the growing number of homeless students in the country, such measures may allow abandoned schools to benefit children and families during times of need.