By Amy Phung, Digital Design Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness
Between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2016, over 1,000 volunteers set out to count the number of people outside, unsheltered in King County during the 36th annual One Night Count. In preparation for this day, I along with our fierce project manager, Catherine Hinrichsen, and previous Digital Design Project Assistant, McKenna Haley, worked through the month of January to create a visual element to represent the One Night Count results for our partners at All Home.
This opportunity allowed us to share other data about homelessness in King County to help bring visibility to the issue. We worked closely with All Home to answer the questions, Who is homeless? Why are they homeless? And, What can we do about it?
This is my first big project as the Digital Design Project Assistant, so I had no idea what to expect but I was relieved to learn how collaborative this project was. During our first brainstorming meeting in the Project on Family Homelessness office on the Seattle U campus in early January, Catherine presented McKenna and me a big ol’ pile of graphs, charts, raw data, and email exchanges containing more data from a plethora of sources.
Catherine and McKenna had already been working with All Home since late November to identify and categorize the data points and decide which to highlight in this piece.
Aside from learning the Who, the Why and the What-Can-I-Do about homelessness, I learned tons about what matters when addressing the problem. Phrases like coordinated entry and chronic homelessness that are now part of my vocabulary helped me to understand some of the complexities of homelessness, and the challenges in ending it.
The three of us spent the afternoon sifting through, clarifying, and synthesizing the info, working together to create a narrative that we could present as an infographic. It was like we were playing ping pong with ideas and data, there was so much energy between us in trying to get the framework pinned down and tell a coherent story on homelessness; it was oddly exciting considering the content we were working with.
I left that room that day feeling invigorated and excited to create something that would provide visibility for a population that has been so invisible in our society. It was jarring for me to come face-to-face for the first time with some of the facts about homelessness in my own community, and so for the next month while creating these graphics, I sort of went back and forth between excitement and somberness about creating images for the data.
One particularly difficult data point was the number of families living in places not fit for human habitation.
From a design perspective, it was at times difficult to know how to represent some of the more powerful data points tactfully and appropriately, while keeping in line with the overall aesthetic. Another challenge we had to was simply fitting in so much data onto one 8.5 x 11″ sheet of paper! Lots of legibility and spatial challenges to figure out, especially with the ongoing content edits, but I’m really proud of our final product. It was no easy feat, but I had great support and a squad of enthusiastic contributors.
Some of the data would illustrate the demographics of people who are homeless; some would demonstrate the challenges the progress; and some would dispel a few common myths about homelessness. This Washington state map, below, was a design solution to an all-too-common notion: that homelessness is someone else’s problem.
After a highly collaborative process with All Home that went from design map to final draft over four weeks, we got the green-light from Mark, director of All Home. As we finalized each individual element in late January, we provided them to All Home so they could begin releasing them in anticipation of the One Night Count. This helped increase dialogue about the Count and the issue overall.
On the morning of the One Night Count, Catherine, McKenna and I waited for the results so we could plug in the final number to complete the infographic.
That was a hard day — all the emotional ups and downs I had throughout the creating process were amplified a hundred times while I was looking at the final piece with the too-large number of unsheltered people in King County — 4,505.
At the same time I was saddened by that number, I was filled almost equally with feelings of gratitude for the chance to get to work on this with such inspiring and passionate humans.
The experience I gained from creating this infographic is invaluable — it’s helped to put the overall issue of homelessness into perspective and helped me to correct and confront my own misconceptions about homelessness on a number of levels. I’m coming away from this project with a greater understanding of the unique challenges faced by those who are without stable housing, as well as a greater respect for those who are working to end homelessness.
Update, May 2016: An updated version of this infographic is now available, with a new, more comprehensive count of homelessness in King County that includes people who were staying in emergency shelter and in transitional housing on the night of Jan. 29, 2016.