Wendy Jackson from Oakland, California is creating an environment that feels more like home for those without one.
Ode Editors | December 2008 issue
The decrepit old supermarket warehouse and cannery in Oakland, California, was no place to call home. It was cold in winter and there were leaks everywhere. But for 17 years, it housed some of Alameda County, California’s homeless population—until Wendy Jackson, executive director of the East Oakland Community Project, decided to change things. “I wanted to help create an environment where people could wake up and say, ‘Okay, things are bad, but I have a clean environment where I can work on my other issues,’” Jackson says. So in 1999, she started talking about a new shelter.Eight years of fundraising, planning and building later, Crossroads was born.
Less than a block from the old warehouse, the bright and airy 125-bed building has tile floors, ceiling fans everywhere and a vibrant mural painted by community members in the entrance hall. “I started looking at it from the point of view of not hurting the people who are here, not hurting the environment and durability,” Jackson explains.
Crossroads incorporates eco-friendly innovations such as hydronic heating (wherein grey water is recycled through coils to warm the building). Photovoltaic cells on the roof allows the shelter to produce electricity. There’s a respite care area for people who’ve just left the hospital; lockers to keep clothes and other personal items safe; a downstairs lounge with computers and televisions; and a gated outside area where residents can hang out, smoke if they like, and even “sing,” as one resident remarked on his way out. These features may sound commonplace, but for residents and staff used to the slum-like conditions of the old shelter, they are almost luxuries.