GOOD Ideas for Cities: A Board Game to End Homelessness
Housing the homeless is one of the most complex social issues facing Los Angeles. With countless bureaucratic steps and agencies, it takes six to nine months to house a homeless veteran; and sometimes longer. That waiting period can be detrimental when someone's health and general well-being are on the line.
As a participant in GOOD Ideas for Cities Los Angeles in April 2011, Becky Kanis faced the challenge of housing head on. She didn't just want to make the housing process a little easier—her goal was to reduce that six to nine month period down to a mere ten days. As the director of the 100,000 Homes campaign, Kanis has already devoted her life to solving homelessness. By participating in GOOD Ideas for Cities, Kanis stepped outside of her realm to find creative solutions from the unlikely sources.
Kanis and her complex problem were paired with an unusual team: furniture designer Tanya Aguiñiga and graphic designer David San Miguel. "We charted out for them what the typical process is to get a homeless person into housing, and they were both aghast," said Kanis. In determining how to tackle the problem, Kanis knew that a pitfall would be relying solely on Aguiñiga's main skill set; just because Aguiñiga is a furniture designer, they could've gotten off track by creating a portable chair for the homeless, for example. "We didn't try to retrofit it," said Kanis. "I tried to come up with a project that would play to Tanya's strengths. We stuck to the social issue."
Aguiñiga isn't a total stranger to providing aid for those who need it. Previously, she built and ran a community center in Mexico where she worked for six years. "The most challenging aspect was knowing that this was extremely urgent," she said. "They're dealing with the people that are most vulnerable." 100,000 Homes approaches housing by addressing the most vulnerable first—the elderly and sick fall into this category.
The way the board game works is by encouraging players to constantly cut out steps to try to make the process faster. In conjunction with the United Way's Great LA, national leaders were invited to test out the board game and provide feedback. Along with a similar boot camp held in New York City, both communities reduced their housing processing times by 40 percent. To ensure the results of these sessions actually took effect within housing agencies, Kanis partnered with Nadim Matta of the Rapid Results Institute. "He was able to grasp it because he could see it visually," said Kanis. "Together we created a Rapid Results Housing Boot Camp, and we just finished training 17 cities across the country."
Initially a board game might be overlooked as child's play, but everyone was eager to take this unique approach. "It's a really serious subject, but no one thought this trivialized the problem of being homeless," said Aguiñiga. "People were simply looking for easier ways to get their jobs done. Everyone was pretty excited to see their own processes mapped out, and compare it to other agencies processes."