On a single night in Austin, an average of 2,500 people experience homelessness. 60% of those individuals sleep in a place that is considered uninhabitable. While shelter is limited, individuals also choose to opt out of shelter for reasons like having to separate from partners or pets.
A team composed of designers, a data analyst, a content strategist, and a project manager worked to identify pain points that people experiencing homelessness encounter when trying to navigate the homeless system in Austin. Over 200 individuals who were either currently experiencing homelessness or had previously experienced homelessness were interviewed. The synthesis of those interviews identified a number of issues, including a glaring gap in regards to feedback. A number of prototypes were created to test gathering and adopting feedback of people experiencing homelessness, including working with a city department to test out client input on social service contracts. In addition to testing out different prototypes, the team put together an advisory committee, the Austin Homelessness Advisory Committee, to provide feedback on engagement, synthesis, and prototypes.
Project Outcomes and Impact
The committee currently operates out of the Downtown Austin Community Court, and works with nonprofits and government agencies to provide input on homelessness services and policies and help plan outreach to individuals experiencing homelessness. In addition to providing paid compensation, committee members also have access to service providers and support.
People with lived experience are experts in challenges and opportunities of systems and services, and are the ones best suited to redesign them. Individuals we worked with were excited to give feedback and make things better for their community, but it was vital that we compensated them for their labor.