What do you do with an abandoned supermarket that’s no longer needed for its original purpose but still has great bones? In this case, transform it into a celebrated, completely free homeless shelter for 42 full-time residents. “Shelter From the Storm” is more than just a place for unhoused people to lay their heads at night — it’s a thoughtfully designed community that could serve as a model for similar projects around the world.

The public café available inside Shelter From the Storm's new London shelter.

Designed by Holland Harvey Architects, the London shelter now bears few signs of its former identity. Its spacious open interiors have been converted into cozier, more domestic-feeling spaces. Guests and residents can even enjoy a cheerful on-site café space full of plants.

Common area inside Shelter From the Storm's new London shelter.
The public café available inside Shelter From the Storm's new London shelter.

The original building clearly had plenty of life left in it, and many of its elements are still present, including the brick walls, concrete columns, and visible ductwork. All this gives the space a somewhat industrial feel, albeit one softened by the addition of wood floors, residential-style lighting, and tiled surfaces in pink and white.

The architects explain: “Upon arrival, guests are greeted with an entrance space that is domestic in scale with a smaller private room directly adjacent if needing to compose themselves before entering the shelter. As you move through the shelter, the scale of each space slowly increases, aiding a smooth transition to the open kitchen and dining area.”

Counseling room inside Shelter From the Storm's new London shelter.

“Throughout the project, each detail was carefully considered, ensuring robustness, dignity, and a sense of ownership for the guests. Bedrooms and bathrooms are based upon typical domestic typologies. For example, sinks and mirrors are separate, providing guests with something of their own within a communal space.”

They add: “An essential part of our undertaking was to understand and respond to preconceived ideas around homelessness and the homeless. Our approach to this was to embed the idea of transparency into the scheme. This was achieved through the insertion of new windows and internal openings that allow views in, out, and through the space. Similarly, the dual use of the shelter as a community café aims to open up the shelter to the wider community. By inviting the general public into the shelter, they are simultaneously invited into the debate about how to demystify homelessness.”

One of the pristine bathroom areas inside Shelter From the Storm's new London shelter.
One of the pristine bathroom areas inside Shelter From the Storm's new London shelter.

Shelter From the Storm has a primary aim of reintegrating its residents back into society, and it shows that with the respectful way in which they’re all treated. The shelter aims to house and support people no matter who they are or where they come from, noting that they “do not shy away from difficult cases that require extra perseverance, understanding, and care.”

The public café available inside Shelter From the Storm's new London shelter.

The organization works in collaboration with both large corporations and third party institutions to offer work opportunities to residents. Running on donations, they manage to provide all of this care at a cost of less than £20 per guest per night, which is much lower than the amount it typically costs city and state governments to have people living on the streets. If you’re interested in learning more about their compassionate model, check out STFS.org.uk.