USA Today

Not everyone gets to live in a green home, but an increasing number of the U.S. homeless do -- temporarily, at least, in shelters. Today in Detroit, the homeless can even start working out in a green gym.

Cass Community Social Services, a non-profit that helps the poor in Detroit, opened Wednesday what it says is the nation's first eco-gym specifically meant for homeless men, women and children.

"The Green Gym," aimed at reducing energy costs, will include 10 stationary bicycles that generate electricity to be redirected into Cass' power grid. How much? The non-profit estimates that if each bike is used in four daily classes for a year, they will produce enough power to light 36 homes for a month.

"Not only is this gym a good idea for the environment, but it will help build the general health of our clients who often struggle with diabetes or heart disease associated with obesity and weight gain," the Rev. Faith Fowler, Cass' executive director, said in a statement. Located in a warehouse, it will be open to 240 homeless people.

Most homeless shelters are drab, old buildings, but more are going green as local governments and community groups seek to save money by building new energy-efficient facilities or retrofitting old ones.

New eco-friendly shelters have been built in California, Illinois, Texas and Virginia, among other places.

In November 2007, Chicago's Pacific Garden Mission, moved from an 84-year-old building into a new state-of-the-art eco-gem with more than 950 beds. This shelter has a green roof, water-saving dual-flush toilets, 100 solar panels, an interior courtyard with birch trees and a greenhouse where residents can grow food.

In Oakland, a new homelesss shelter known as "Crossroads" opened in 2008 to accommodate 125 residents. Painted in distinctive crayon colors, it has a solar-paneled roof, hydronic heating, ceiling fans, non-toxic paint and furniture made from pressed wheat.

Wendy Jackson, executive director of the East Oakland Community Project, said people told her she was going too far when she began searching for money to finance the $11 million facility, paid for with public and private dollars.

"People didn't get it," she told the New York Times. "There's a larger issue than just sheltering people." She said most of her residents have asthma, allergies, H.I.V. or diabetes and need a healthy environment in which to heal.

In Dallas in 2008, a modern homeless shelter called "The Bridge" opened that is so striking it won a 2009 award from the American Institute of Architects. Its green-roofed dining room sits in the middle of an open courtyard and its sleeping areas have translucent walls that welcome natural light.

Leesburg, Va., opened its doors in November to a new emergency homeless shelter and remodeled transitional housing facility that will receive certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.


Spencer Hayes said...

Great article! Thank you so much for presenting the work of this wonderful non-profit organization to your readers.

Cass' motto is "Fighting Poverty, Creating Opportunity" and the Green Gym coincides with that mantra beautifully.

The Green Gym will kill multiple "birds" with one stone and I commend Cass Community Social Services for their tremendous efforts and dedication to our community!

Erin Rose said...

You are very welcome!

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