Fusing design and policy to prevent, reduce, and end youth homelessness in Hamilton, Ontario.
Service design & consulting
Team: A Deckert, F Shahriar, C Story, M Yogarajah
In May 2019, I participated in Bridgeable's Designership program. The Designership is the company's summer social responsibility project, where we tackle social impact problems with the goal of making a difference. This year's topic was tackling youth homelessness in Hamilton, Ontario, by adapting components of a Welsh housing law for the Canadian landscape. We worked with amazing partners—kind, passionate folks—such as the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH), A Way Home Canada, and their joint venture, Making the Shift.
Before anything else, I'd like to thank the youth with lived experiences of homelessness and the Indigenous communities of Hamilton, for being so generous and gracious with their time, personal anecdotes, and knowledge. We worked closely with them throughout the summer, to make sure that their voices were being heard and that they had an active role in the outcome of the project. Without them, none of this would have happened.
If you are interested in our approach and our work, please check out our collection of informative Bridgeable blog posts written throughout the summer.
The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) is Canada’s leading academic institution for homelessness research, housed locally at York University. Prior to starting the summer, the team read through an extensive document published by COH, The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness (2018), as well as many related readings to help inform our expectations and decisions. We interviewed and consulted with Dr. P. Mackie, the homelessness expert who spearheaded the adoption of housing policies in Wales, integrating him and his teachings into our co-creation workshop with frontline workers and decision-makers, and stakeholders.
Beyond academia and consulting policy experts, our decisions were heavily informed by our participants—the youth whose stories we were representing in our proposed solution. Their experiences helped shape our perspectives and our understanding of what youth at risk of/experiencing homelessness truly face and crave. In the spirit of knowledge mobilization, many of our output and artefacts were consciously modelled to effectively liaise between political actors and youth, while staying true to both perspectives.
We employed an arts-based approach by developing our own guided cultural probe. I designed this probe, the “Storytelling Kit”, which became a pivotal tool in allowing our youth experts to examine their own definitions of home and self. Their output allowed them to lead discussions and/or following interviews with the project team, based on their own boundaries and comfort levels.
The entire summer was informed with anti-oppression and cultural teachings and trainings. This helped the team not only understand how to conduct ourselves in face of such a complex problem, but also to begin unpacking areas of oppression and marginalization. This allowed us to begin poking at gaps and weaknesses of the current system, ultimately resulting in unanimous agreement for strengths-based approaches instead of the conventional, deficit-based approach to solving any sort of problem.
Our deliverables were quite digestible and bite-sized. For example, we translated the principles for Duty to Assist—COH’s study of the Canadian equivalent of the Welsh housing policy—into a small deck of policy principle cards. We developed a series of context brochures and posters, which fleshed out scenarios while delivering composites of interview anecdotes. Our goal was to bridge gaps, clarify inconsistencies, and uncover insights that had potentially been in front of us this whole time.
I unfortunately cannot divulge too much about the details or the output of the project, but below are some examples of the deliverables we produced, tested, and used in our research process.
From our research, we discovered that schools are the optimal place for upstream intervention. Together with our youth, we co-created and prototyped a 4-pronged service to not only give students a voice and a way to ask for support, but to also provide teachers the training and guidance for next steps.
This project was not only meaningful in its mission, but also in showing me the potential of making a difference through different channels, such as by interfacing with policy and marginalized communities. These were admittedly areas I hadn’t thought much of before (I was focused on medicine and education), but are now at the forefront of my mind as I navigate the world and remain critical of my surroundings. Moving forward, I'm optimistic about the power and use of (service) design to shape meaningful solutions in face of complex problems.
On a more personal note, working on this project has made me reflect on my own background. Hearing anecdotes from our interviews, such as “having a home (or just 4 walls) means you don’t have to live hour-by-hour anymore” has made me think about my own definition of home and my privilege, but have also sparked a desire to ensure that a difference in this space is made.
This summer was complicated not just in the scope and subject matter, but because it also challenged me to think about design and research differently. Transitioning from UI/UX and into service design encouraged me to embrace ambiguity, to truly value people, to juggle increasingly fast deadlines, to co-create and facilitate, and to even return to my love of print design to create beautiful, tangible artefacts.
Please contact me if you would like to learn about the process, the deliverables, and any specific content-based takeaways of this project!