The designer’s creative problem-solving skill set is not often used to address society’s most vexing problems such as homelessness; however, Designmatters has done so on two occasions in collaboration with the City Pasadena.
First, the bad weather shelter, started in Pasadena after a homeless individual died of hypothermia one particularly severe winter, was on the verge of losing a large amount of its funding. Worse, was the fact that it was my department’s funding that was being lost. Explaining this unfortunate situation to my family over dinner, my then high school daughter, Rebecca Huang, was appalled at the prospect of the bad weather shelter closing and the possibility of homeless persons dying from exposure to the cold.
Rebecca quickly decided to form the Friends of the Bad Weather Shelter (FBWS) with the goal of raising funds to prevent deaths of homeless persons by keeping the bad weather shelter open. One of the things she did was to reach out to Designmatters at ArtCenter for assistance to create a look for FBWS’s public awareness effort. Designmatters arranged for ArtCenter alum, Patrick Hruby, to develop a design for bus shelter posters. The posters were installed in 20 bus shelters scattered throughout the city and also used on t-shirts sold to hundreds of individuals who supported the FBWS.
Over $50,000 was raised over a three-year period that helped keep the bad weather shelter open and enabled the nonprofit running the shelter enough time to find new funding sources so it could be permanently sustainable.
The second time Designmatters was engaged was for a comprehensive public information campaign on homelessness. This campaign challenged Designmatters students to come up with a name and ways to inform the public and raise funds for the local homeless services. The campaign had to be positive – not a pity piece, and visually compelling.
The Real Change Movement, as the campaign was eventually named, included graphics, a website, public service announcement video, and repurposed parking meters as public donation stations. The program was convincing enough to secure major implementation funding, enabling a full media effort to take place and nine Real Change meters to be installed throughout Pasadena. The Real Change Movement received extensive local, national, and international news coverage.
Local businesses and institutions were tapped to cover the costs of installation, administration and maintenance for the program so all the funds donated to the meters could be dedicated to homeless services. Additionally, the United Way of Great Los Angeles stepped up as a partner to match funds raised by the Real Change Movement.
A key early decision was made to design the campaign pieces in a way where they could be easily used by other localities to implement their own Real Change Movement program. To date, West Palm Beach, Florida, has begun to use the program and City of Los Angeles is on the verge of adopting it for its downtown area.
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