Dignity Stations:

A Scalable Tool for Addressing Homelessness

Similar to the European concept of a “bothy,” a “Dignity Station” is a modular unit that contains two separate, independently lockable rooms, and a toilet. It is designed to be completely free-standing, requiring no electrical or plumbing hookups, and may be placed anywhere permission is given by property owners and the city.

The two rooms are accessed using keypad locks that may be remotely updated with timed access. A display indicates whether each room is RESERVED or AVAILABLE. Keypads are programmed with a “panic code” as well as an emergency override.

Patrons may call a number shown on each station to receive a code for a short time, or they may visit Dignity Central and register for a longer stay. Dignity Stations are available to anyone, free of charge.

Rooms contains a built-in cot and shelf, a USB charging port, an LED light, and a smoke detector—smoking/vaping outside, please! The toilet is open to the public, cleaned and serviced several times a week, depending on use. A dusk-to-dawn porch light illuminates the exterior.

The unit is powered by a rechargeable battery, and may include a propane heating system set to maintain inside temperatures above 60 degrees. An attic vent fan circulates air through the unit in summer.

“Dignity Central” is located near the downtown area. At minimum, it would involve a staff member with a laptop or iPad, perhaps working at an existing office during the day, and accessible by phone at night. Its primary function is to coordinate the use and maintenance of Dignity Stations, and update their status on an app or web page so that patrons may locate available units.

Communication with and monitoring of each unit is facilitated by a tablet with phone coverage. This necessitates a line per unit, as well as one for the manager(s).

Eventually Dignity Central may have its own facility in a storefront or other property with convenient access and overnight hours. The following services may be provided in a come-and-go setting:

  • Bag check
  • WiFi
  • Mail pickup
  • Charging stations
  • Hot/cold drinks
  • Bathroom facilities
  • Showers
  • Packaged food
  • Phone
  • Volunteer opportunities for longer-term patrons
  • More public toilets—what’s not to like?
  • Convenient space for nursing mothers and parents with small children
  • Safe housing option for those currently living on the streets
  • A relatively low “barrier of activation” makes startup less daunting than many other options
  • Small unit footprint takes up the equivalent of 3-4 parking spaces—how about placing one on the top floor of each parking garage?
  • The discrete nature of the units makes it easier to find sponsors to fund or host them
  • Publicly advertising sponsors increases the incentive to keep up the area around each unit
  • Once infrastructure and staffing are in place, the number of units may be expanded as needed/possible
  • Operating costs grow proportionally with the number of units
  • Individual living/sleeping space avoids many of the challenges found in shelters and other group settings
  • Reduce the perceived threat posed by large numbers of unhoused individuals in one place
  • Multiple locations create opportunities for increased community involvement and ownership
  • Contracting out services such as cleaning and placing or moving the units supports local businesses

Since they are designed to operate unattended, Dignity Stations have the potential for misuse or vandalism. They also require frequent servicing, replacement of fuel, battery, etc.

Patrons have to be moved or evicted if complaints arise, or the unit is damaged.

While five units might be a good start-up level, a larger number would be required to shelter those who presently live in area encampments. Ideally, one side of each unit would be available for long-term reservation and the other kept for short-term needs.

Waste disposal from composting toilets may present a challenge.

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