The City on a Hill: Fort Wayne Rescue Mission

Design Collaborative partnered with The Fort Wayne Rescue Mission to build a new facility that will improve the lives of homeless individuals in Fort Wayne. 

Design Collaborative partnered with The Fort Wayne Rescue Mission to build a new facility that will improve the lives of homeless individuals in Fort Wayne. The Fort Wayne Rescue Mission has served this community for over a century. Its goal is to provide homeless individuals with the support and resources they need to get back on their feet.

In 1903, a group of Christians felt called to minister to local and transient homeless men, so they created The Rescue Mission to provide housing, food, and religious services. A few years later, in 1922, the Rescue Mission joined eleven other agencies to form the United Way of Allen County, previously known as the Community Chest. After moving to 301 W. Superior St. in 1964, the mission expanded its facilities to incorporate larger housing and feeding ministries. A 16-bed women and children’s ministry opened in 1985 to meet the needs of homeless women and children in the Fort Wayne area. In the 1990s, the Rescue Mission expanded its resources to include a thrift store, a state-of-the-art Learning Center, and The Charis House. The Charis House, which means “House of Grace” in Greek, accommodated almost 50 women and children. In 2010, Design Collaborative helped design a new Charis House to accommodate 78 women and children. In 2016, Design Collaborative and the Mission started work on a new facility located on the corner of Lafayette Street and Washington Blvd. With the help of their new building, the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission has the capacity to impact more people now than ever before.
In July 2016, Design Collaborative’s journey began with a successful interview and a sprint to design a facility that allowed the chosen site to be rezoned. This rezoning would require a BZA Hearing. Design Collaborative hosted a series of intense design charrettes with key stakeholders to establish the initial schematic design in less than two weeks. The initial schematic design was successfully granted permission to be built on the new site in downtown Fort Wayne.


One of the major hurdles in this project was rezoning. Unlike many of DC’s other projects, the Rescue Mission did not unfold all at once; this project stretched out over years, going through many phases of alterations and approvals. Before the final designs were even completed, contractors started demolishing existing buildings and preparing the site. The construction manager, Weigand Construction, bid the final design in September 2018. However, Weigand Construction did not break ground until April 2019. Today, the project is nearing completion with only punch items to complete while spaces await the arrival of furniture.


The Fort Wayne Rescue Mission’s facility is like a mini-city. Within the walls of this city, residents can access resources to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. To meet their physical needs, this facility includes a clinic, a barbershop, laundry facility, housing, and dining opportunities. To promote a sense of community, there is a chapel and community center, as well as a rooftop garden and multiple lounge areas. Growth is a goal for every city, and this facility includes a shelled floor to accommodate future growth. With security, acoustics, and circulation in mind, the numerous spaces fit together like a puzzle. Although the facility is more formal than the Charis House, we intentionally selected interior finishes that would eliminate the institutional feel that is common in most homeless shelters.
Chapel services are an important part of the Rescue Mission program. Chapel is held multiple days a week. In their old space, the chapel was set up and torn down for each service. In the new facility, the chapel is intended to be a more permanent space. The chapel, seating 180 individuals, has full audio capabilities and offers a place of respite for those in the program.


Kitchen and Dining
The Fort Wayne Rescue Mission offers three free meals, 365 days a year, to people in need. Food is prepared by those in the program, utilizing a commercial kitchen. The new kitchen is designed for future growth, but also incorporates a side training kitchen for any interested in the culinary arts. Both kitchens are supplied with a range of new equipment that will last decades. Food storage includes a built-in cooler and freezer unit, as well as a large downstairs pantry for pallets of donated food. The new dining room seats 200 people and was designed for efficient circulation. To accommodate larger groups, additional seating is made possible by opening the operable wall between the chapel and the dining room. This large room will also allow the staging of cots in emergency situations.
Sleeping Rooms and Lounges
The Mission will open with a capacity of 249 beds. Sleeping arrangements are organized by house, which denotes an individual’s current level in the program. These rooms were constructed with durability and cleanliness in mind. The floors are stained concrete and the walls have been treated with a wall protection panel. One of the obstacles we faced while designing the sleeping rooms was accommodating individuals with different sleep schedules. We solved this problem through thoughtful lighting design that considered different sleep schedules, while allowing support staff to perform unobtrusive nightly rounds.


Roof Top Garden
Another area of respite is the second-floor rooftop garden. Raised planter beds offer opportunities for therapeutic gardening, and there is a lounge area accessible to all residents. The high screen walls act as a barrier between the residents and the busy street below, creating a private oasis for relaxation and fellowship.
Connection Center
At the heart of the first floor, the connection center offers hotel offices for support organizations to meet with residents. The center provides individuals with computers and internet stations.


Design Collaborative desires to serve the people of the Fort Wayne Community by creating spaces that meet their needs. The new Fort Wayne Rescue Mission facility, through creative and innovative design interventions, meets the unique needs of a community that is often overlooked. By partnering with The Fort Wayne Rescue Mission, Design Collaborative had the amazing opportunity to design a building that will improve people’s worlds for years to come, supporting them through a challenging chapter in their lives and helping them thrive in the next one.


Jeremiah Hatfield, RA, AIA, LEED AP BD+C 
Senior Associate, Registered Architect