Homeless Prevention and a Healing Garden

We here at the TKF Foundation are extremely proud to have partnered in the creation of over 130 Open Spaces Sacred Places in the past 15 years. Our firm belief is that everybody needs a Walden Pond in their back yard, a place where people can be in nature and reconnect to themselves, to the land, and to each other, and we believe these spaces give that to the community.

With that in mind, here on Open Voices, we would like to occasionally feature some of these locations that we’ve had a hand in creating – both to let you know a bit more about our organization, and also about the benefits of these spaces. Today, we’re featuring our healing garden at the Lighthouse Homeless Prevention Center.

See our previous case study: Benefits of Prison Gardens

In creating this space, we wanted to help re-introduce homeless clients used to experiencing nature as a negative force in their lives to the healing and humanizing effects of nature. We realized that for homeless clients, they’re often used to nature as an unforgiving force that causes them distress. But we also know that viewing natural scenes or elements is known to foster stress recovery by evoking positive feelings, reducing negative emotions, effectively holding interest, and blocking or reducing stressful thoughts. So our goal of this healing garden was to alleviate stress – to soothe, calm, and rejuvenate the visitor’s mental and emotional health. The Healing Garden at the Light House Shelter provides sanctuary, allows for meditation and elicits therapeutic or beneficial effects on the users.

The Light House Healing Garden is located in a somewhat counter-intuitive yet purposeful spot adjacent to the facility’s main entrance, along a bustling commercial street. The site responds to the behavior commonly displayed by many homeless clients who are deciding whether or not to seek help. Wising to draw clients in and provide a welcoming, buffer experience before arriving at the Shelter, the garden may be accessed from many points.

The intermittent spacing of art panels that form a permeable sense of boundary along the sidewalk invites visitors to drift in or out of the space until they become comfortable with their new surroundings. A multi-surfaced path forms the backbone of this long, tapered garden, linking the public entrance to the more inward-focused space at the opposite end. The narrow footprint of the space is tempered by the interplay of a variety of garden experiences introduced along the central path.

Our biggest lesson learned with this space? A thoughtfully located healing space in nature can allow clients to prepare to transition themselves to the new experience of entering a support program and graduating to independent living.