Homeless­ness Is Bad Design

Rosanne Haggerty, CEO of Community Solutions

By Rosanne Haggerty

April 11, 2016

The CEO of Community Solutions, a nonprofit that combats homelessness, on designing a system that actually puts roofs over people’s heads.

Homelessness is what happens when people fall through the cracks of different systems, so if we’re to put an end to it, we need to create integrated teams—the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the mayor’s office, the nonprofits, the housing authority. It’s only when you get everyone together in the same room that you can construct a well-performing housing placement system that isn’t sending vulnerable people down all sorts of dead ends.

Everyone at an initial meeting would say, “We get that we need to collaborate, but how?” We need a performance management system that helps a collection of local organizations focus on a common goal and test their way into a solution, but that’s grounded in person-specific data, so you can see if a situation is actually working for certain users of the system.

Another design principle is the notion of housing first—you redesign your approach to getting people housing as your first order of business, then help with the other issues that have been confounding them. Moving a single person from homelessness would require more than 50 steps. We worked with designers to create a magnetic board that looks like Chutes and Ladders. We asked people to map out what’s required for a single person to move from the point where you identify them on the street to a stable home. You’d see this crazy, winding trail.

Washington, D.C., looked at the amount of time it was taking from when an apartment becomes available to a lease-signing and turning over keys. They created a day where they’d have all the landlords and all the people who had been matched to them show up and sign their leases at the same time and get their keys. Imagine that.

Editor: Dimitra Kessenides