Case Study: Like This Box
Situation: To put forward graphic ideas that raise awareness of the plight of the four in ten homeless that are living on the streets, in cars or in abandoned buildings, and to raise awareness about a solution to help end homelessness—affordable housing from nonprofit agencies like Supportive Housing Communities in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Investigation: Research started with pouring over data and numbers from numerous homeless websites and publications. The research took a turn for the better after my meeting with Mrs. Linda Miller, volunteer coordinator at Supportive Housing Communities. This relationship gave me genuine access to the residents of McCreesh Place and allowed me to gain the needed insight.
Insight: The insights gained from my investigation and research fueled the concept. I decided to create four deliverables to raise awareness about the unsheltered and the solution offered by McCreesh Place to the problem of homelessness.
Idea: My ideas centered on the desire to raise awareness in the North Davidson Street community and uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. I accomplished this with a billboard and a poster series highlighting the four in ten homeless that live in places not intended for people. A small book of quotes from the residents of McCreesh Place was distributed free of charge to the businesses near the center to help the community realize that the homeless are just like you and me. In the book, homeless individuals express their thoughts on homelessness and McCreesh Place in their own words. I also created a mailer that would be used to target policymakers, elected officials and potential donors and supporters.
As this was a class project, I was responsible for any monies spent to create the deliverables.
- Screen-printing supplies: $100
- Paper and printing: $25
- Cardboard: Free
- Labor: Pro bono
Research was key to gaining insight, which in turn led to many good ideas. My research started in the middle of the fall 2012 semester in Design3. This stage of the project was focused on awareness, and I spent my time hitting the books and the internet to see what I could find. What I found shocked me.
What brought the homeless issue front and center for me was the reality of the homeless living in cars, abandoned buildings and, of course, the streets. The research also uncovered some things about my own community. For example, Mecklenburg County has the largest population of homeless in the state, and even more disturbing was the fact that a person working full time at minimum wage supporting a family of four cannot afford the rent on a one-bedroom apartment in any county in North Carolina. The research from Design3 got me wondering: Where were these people that worked and tried to do their part to earn a living?
I met with Mrs. Miller in February of 2013 and was given a tour of the facilities. I also met with one of the residents, and was able to have an open and frank discussion with her, which not only helped me understand what McCreesh Place is and does, but helped me better understand the problem of homelessness in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
McCreesh Place was the dream of Reverend Gene McCreesh from St. Peter’s Catholic Church. It is a facility that offers affordable housing to alleviate homelessness, providing housing for 90 disabled men and offering supportive services. The facility is located on North Davidson Street in Charlotte and if you just happened to drive by, you would probably think it was just a regular apartment complex. On the day I visited, a retired nurse was volunteering her time by giving the residents a check-up.
I also met with a gentleman named Frank Robinson, who was kind enough to show us his apartment and tell us his story. He told us what McCreesh meant to him and where he would be without it—that is, on the streets. I plan on having more conversations with the men of McCreesh Place to really try to understand the lack of resources and options that puts one in the position of homelessness.
My conversation with Mrs. Miller, who has worked with the homeless for the last seven years, was a real eye-opener for me. It was refreshing to see solutions that really work and help get these men off the streets but get them sober, mentally and physically healthy, and back on their feet with paying jobs and supportive services that keep them on track.
The policy side of homelessness was a part of the puzzle that I had not thought about until meeting Mrs. Miller; she explained that if the policymakers really put it first on the agenda, that we could end homelessness. However, we make decisions like building a new baseball park downtown instead of finding the money to build another McCreesh place, perhaps for women and families this time. When I asked what ways I could help with my awareness project (Should I look for action or awareness?) her reply was one of simple logic: “Trey, once you make them aware, then you can ask for the action. Let’s make them aware of the solutions, and then ask them for the action.”
After that initial visit I began finding insight into how to bring awareness of McCreesh Place as a solution. I returned several times just to play Monopoly and talk about current affairs, getting a feel for how receptive the guys would be to the idea of me asking questions and taking pictures. I mentioned before this was a challenge, and I am glad they were all very forthcoming, honest and nice.
I began returning with snacks and would do video interviews with three or four guys per visit, at first using my phone and then with a camera and tripod. A highlight was showing up on choir night and videotaping Dr. Thomas Moore visiting not only with the residents but the staff that sing in the choir.
The final piece of my research was making full use of the information provided to me at the aplacetoliveagain.org website—the main website for Supportive Housing Communities which run McCreesh Place. I encouraged everyone to visit the site to learn more about McCreesh Place, the topic of affordable housing and, of course, how you can volunteer and help bring an end to homelessness.
My ideas centered on the desire to raise awareness in the North Davidson Street Community and uptown Charlotte. I accomplished this with a billboard and a poster series highlighting the four in ten homeless that live in places not intended for people. A small book of quotes from the residents of McCreesh Place was distributed free of charge to the nearby businesses to help the community realize that the homeless are just like you and me. In the book, homeless individuals express their thoughts on homelessness and McCreesh Place in their own words.
I also created a mailer that would be used to target policymakers, elected officials and potential donors and supporters. These were my final deliverables to the client and constituted the creative brief. Now that I have created the deliverables and recently presented the work to my client, we are in the process of determining when to launch the awareness campaign.
“Solution seeker” is something I have named myself; I love the challenge of developing a creative solution to a challenge. I have always felt there are never problems, just challenges that need a more creative solution than normal. During this project, like all designers, I had challenges arise. However, I was able to persevere and find alternative solutions to these issues. For example, I decided to use cardboard as the medium for my posters. Who knew finding cardboard could be so difficult? I thought I had something lined up with Lowe’s, but that fell through. Then I wanted to raid IKEA but it rained for three days, ruining the cardboard. Luckily, I was at Kinko’s getting something printed and I noticed the top of the paper ream box—instant 12" x 18" posterboard.
The second major challenge was gaining the trust of the residents at McCreesh Place. I took advice from Mrs. Miller and began to hang around the recreation room, enjoying small talk and fellowship. My next visit, I brought some chips and cookies and we played some board games. I was able to ask the guys questions about homelessness and was offered insights about how to tell their story for them—in their words—and I began to develop the concept for my quote book. Gaining their trust required me to be genuine, empathetic and honest, listening to them and—most all—making sure I had some good snacks for us to enjoy with the basketball game.
My client believes the project is a success, and they are excited to implement my campaign. They are convinced that I am bringing my message to the community in a genuine, empathetic and honest format. I am using simple, creative solutions that are budget friendly, rely on reusable resources and portray the organization of Supportive Housing Communities in the manner in which they want to be recognized—as a partner in the fight to end homelessness once and for all.
I consider the project a success for many reasons. First of all, I was able to take my design concepts, craft and passion to another level. Second, I have received very favorable feedback from my design peers in and out of school. Finally, I consider the project a success because my client is thrilled with the deliverables and desires using me in the future for all marketing and print-related designs.
This project brought the passion out in me for the desire to end homelessness. With the right policymakers, elected officials and community decisions, we can come together to end homelessness forever.
Please consider volunteering in your local community with a supportive housing agency and give the gift of a place to live again.
“Fast Facts About Homelessness and Poverty | Family Promise.” Fast Facts About Homelessness and Poverty | Family Promise. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
“North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness.” North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
“SOH 2012: Chapter One – Homelessness Counts.” National Alliance to End Homelessness:. N.p., 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 04 Nov. 2012.
“This Box.” Personal interview. 14 Feb. 2013.
“Welcome Home!” Supportive Housing Communities: A Place to Live Again. Supportive Housing Communities, n.d. Web. Feb.–Mar. 2013.