Regional Studio, Columbia University GSAPP | Fall, 2016

Professors:Lee Altman, Michael Murphy, David Smiley, Pippa Brashear

Collaborative Work: Isabel Carrasco, Carmelo Ignaccolo, Mario Ulloa, Shuman Wu

This  research work is the stepping stone for the design project Human Nature. It focuses on homelessness and mental illness in the social and spatial context in Hudson River Valley and specifically in Poughkeepsie City. The research covers historical remnant and current situation which is replicated in different cities of the region.

Psychiatric Centers in the Hudsonvalley

In the United States, 46% of homeless adults live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders. Even though 90% of mentally ill people could be treated, less than 50% received treatment. Homelessness is becoming an issue for Hudson River Valley. It is related to problems such as unemployment, poverty, high incarceration rate, etc. The effort has been made to establish homeless shelters and to launch plans regarding housing and employment. However, the situation is still worsening. 

Historically, there were 19 large psychiatric centers in the Hudson River Valley. Nature was seen as a cure for mental illness, and segregation was considered a way of treating deviancy. In the 1950s, after the act of de-institutionalization in the U.S., most of the psychiatric centers were shut down. The fate of the patients was barely noticed.

Besides the lack of caretaking staffs, there has been a stigma of mental disorder and homelessness. Aggravated by the “not in my backyard“ opposition, it led to the isolation and neglect of the mentally ill and the homeless.


Our team went to one homeless shelter in Poughkeepsie and had a chance to interview transitional housing residents. We collected their life stories and documented their daily routes with a map.


The shelter is located far from the city center, whereas the necessary services a homeless would need can only be found in the city. Therefore, for a resident of the 2-year housing program, he/she would have to commute between these two locations every week by bus. And for a homeless sleeping in the shelter, he/she would have to travel this distance daily, since the shelter only opens at night.

Even though the residents are provided with career services, it is beyond hard for a mentally ill and/or homeless to get a job and gain independence. In addition, statistics show that people suffering from mental illness are 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crimes. Considering mental illness’s relevance to homelessness, it’s evolving into a negative cycle worsening the situation.

Under the circumstances, what can be proposed to tackle the issue of homelessness and mental illness in Poughkeepsie? What can be done to stop the negative cycle? What if the possibility lies in the common ground - landscape? See our design argument and proposal HUMAN NATURE here