Strategies for Addressing Unsheltered Homelessness

City and Regional Planning Junior Studio / Spring 2021 / Kyle Ezell


The purpose of this Ohio State City and Regional Planning studio was to provide planners, policymakers, and stakeholders with new tools, evidence, and insights regarding planning considerations for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Columbus, Ohio. Students proposed planning, policy, and design specifications around access to food (community refrigerators), transportation, tiny home development, and programs for services. Students extensively reviewed pertinent literature, assessed case studies and best practices, and worked together on forward-thinking ideas for improving lives. While providing homes for people without homes is the optimal solution, the students' ideas offer essential ways to improve lives by providing immediate needs. Beyond resulting tools and specifications, this evidence will inform stakeholders and policymakers to advocate for our valued neighbors.

— Kyle Ezell, EdD, FAICP CUD


Our strategy, Columbus Community Fridges, seeks to address the prevalent food insecurity that the unsheltered homeless and extremely impoverished populations face. It aims to increase access to food and provide essential non-food items for those who need them through the implementation of community fridges and shelves in the Columbus area. These community fridges can also raise awareness around the issues of homelessness and food scarcity and build bonds between the members of a community and its more vulnerable population.

This topic is important because unsheltered homeless people face a great amount of food insecurity, which has negative repercussions on their health (Petrik, 2019). Food scarcity and homelessness also lead to poorer educational outcomes and a lack of employment opportunities. People who are homeless often must make the impossible choice between food and shelter, sometimes they cannot afford either (Cody-Carrese, 2019). A study done at two homeless shelters in Minnesota found that participants obtained extra food (not provided by the shelter) by stealing, scavenging (dumpster diving), eating items in grocery stores, or prostituting for extra money (Richards & Smith, 2006). These are people who get served multiple meals a day, so the outlook for unsheltered people is even more dire. 

A more creative solution is needed to combat the intersection of homelessness and food insecurity. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, free, public fridges have become a leading trend. These fridges immediately put food in people's hands and there is no barrier to obtaining food from one, such as the need for identification or paperwork. These fridges are low-cost and relatively simple to implement, which is why we have pursued this strategy. We will assess case studies in three major cities to understand and improve on the current model for community fridges, report on the conditions of unsheltered homelessness in Columbus in relation to food scarcity, recommended targeted locations for Columbus Community Fridges, and provide a prototype design and guidelines for implementation.


  • Joey Warnkin
  • Christian Harris
  • Alexa Reynoso
  • Anneliese Mcclurg
  • Ben Dalton
  • Sam Goecke
  • Brian Brightbill
  • Delonda Griffin
  • Devon Tucker
  • Alyssa Graziano
  • Kayla Robinson
  • Luke Ciminillo Delamotte
  • Morgan Mackey
  • Madison Richard
  • Zachary Bristol
  • Sophie Fritz


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Kyle Ezell

Professor of Practice