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USC- Homelessness

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Rachel Tang

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

After approaching individuals of the homeless population on Skid Row, I just wanted to write a bit about our encounters. The first individual we approached was Charles. He lives under the freeway bridge not far from USC's campus. His story was brief; his thoughts seemed to wander after we asked him how he came to this point in his life. All we know is that he grew up in LA and has been homeless for about 4-5 years. Actually heading out to the area around Skid Row on Main and 6th, we met a woman named Sally. She was originally from England and has been homeless for 3-4 years after fostering about 80 children. Sally has tried to keep in contact with her daughter who drives by sometimes and honks at her. We don't know why her daughter doesn't help her mother get off the streets, but we do know that the police are constantly telling Sally to move, forcing her to lose touch with her daughter time after time. On the same block, we meet Barry. Barry is 62 years old, but looks like he's in his late 40's. He is originally from Minnesota, traveled to Las Vegas, and eventually ended up in LA. Barry's been homeless for 15 years on and off, but before his current living situation, he was an airplane engineer back in Minnesota. He is estranged from his 2 children and their mother, and they currently have no idea where he resides. Barry has interest in finding a job, but he tells us that it's difficult to compete with younger applicants and those who discover the job opening before he does. All three individuals were open to us taking a picture of them after we explained our project, and we hope to use their stories to humanize the homeless population and to increase awareness.

3 years ago ·

Gabriela Schweizer


Our current idea is to create a public art installation a la Banksy. In its current prototyping stage, it will feature a story piece, a mirror, and multiple depictions of homelessness and the LA community.
The plans for the public art installation will ideally connect societal spheres of downtown LA, generate awareness, and stimulate conversation between the homeless population and the remainder of LA, reducing stigma, and increasing fluidity between populations.

This has begun to take on two forms:
1. Large- full size depiction of skid row 'panorama' to be displayed in locations far removed from homeless culture. The photos will remain anonymous, with faces, skin, and identifiable aspects removed, but personal objects, (i.e tents, baggage, personal belongings) will remain within the photo coupled with the stories of the homeless individuals within the photo. The installation with be rapid, quick, a shocking *flash,* smack in the financial district of LA (location negotiable). This should begin to shrink the breadth of LA, connecting the unseen and disregarded homeless population with the remainder of LA. Beyond shock value alone, the stories of the individuals will ideally promote empathy, a shift of perspective, and stimulate dialogue and/or relationships between the 'other' sphere and the remainder of LA.

2. Photos of LA citizens, ideally one USC student, multiple homeless individuals, a businessmen (and/or professors and professionals) atop of mirrored surface. This allows a passerby to step into their shoes, so to speak, and stimulate thoughts such as: 'This could be me,' or even, 'Wow this is... what they wear?' coupled with feelings of empathy, and refreshed thought regarding other forgotten populations. Essentially,as stated previously, this will bridge gaps within LA society, generate awareness of disparities, and connect the unseen and disregarded homeless population with the remainder of LA. Beyond shock value alone, the stories of the individuals will ideally promote empathy, a shift of perspective, and stimulate dialogue and/or relationships between the 'other' sphere and the remainder of LA.
This installation can work both ways, potentially stimulating thoughts within the homeless population, and providing hope and/or inspiration for ambitions as professionals, and rising from homelessness into 'other shoes,' into another lifestyle.

Next Steps:
Name/Branding- ref(LA)ct, reflact, etc.
Install Prototype
Observe, User feedback

3 years ago ·

Gabriela Schweizer

3 years ago ·

Gabriela Schweizer

“The category of Other is as original as consciousness itself. The duality between Self and Other can be found in the most primitive societies, in the most ancient mythologies; the division did not always fall into the category of the division of the sexes (...) No group ever defines itself as One without immediately setting up the Other opposite itself. It only takes three travelers brought together by chance in the same train compartment for the rest of the travellers to become vaguely hostile 'others'. Village people view anyone not belonging to the village as suspicious 'others'. For the native of a country, inhabitants of other countries are viewed as 'foreigners'; Jews are the 'others' for anti-Semites, blacks for racist Americans, indigenous people for colonists, proletarians for the propertied classes.”
? Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

Comparable to De Beauvoir's thoughts regarding 'woman,' she clearly defines the existentialist idea of ONE and the OTHER- the separate, the different, the outlier of the primary population.
Like her definition regarding 'woman,' homelessness also alienates individuals as the 'Other.' There are LA citizens, and there are homeless people- normal people who are viewed as different from the rest of the population.This is a perception which they do not choose, but rather, one which society forces.

3 years ago ·

Gabriela Schweizer

3 years ago ·

Gabriel Lam

Our plans for the public art installation will hopefully connect both spheres of downtown LA. With silhouettes of a USC student, a homeless individual, a businessman, a professor, and possibly other ideas, we will allow participants of our interactive art project to visually connect with their "new" appearance. We will provide a personal anecdote with every silhouette to inform the participant about each specific scenario and story behind the person they are portraying.

With this, hopefully residents of downtown LA can develop a non-physical yet significant connection with the homeless through this visual portrayal, and perhaps help support the promotion of awareness for the homeless

3 years ago ·

Gabriel Lam

3 years ago ·

Olivia Chui

Our current idea is to create a public art installation a la Banksy. In its current iteration, it will feature a story piece, a mirror, and a silhouette.

We are hoping to prototype this within the next week and have an initial test on-campus at one of the most popular throughfares students travel through. Afterwards, we plan to test it in other locations in Los Angeles like the well-travelled Arts District near Downtown Los Angeles, a place that is right next to Skid Row.

It is our hope that this installation sparks conversation and perhaps even goes viral.

3 years ago ·

Olivia Chui

3 years ago ·

Merhawi Tecle joined the project

3 years ago ·

Olivia Chui joined the project

3 years ago ·

Jason Cheng

3 years ago ·

Jason Cheng

Thoughts on Ideation

Our original idea was to create a public art installation, in which people could take pictures with a photo of a homeless person. After further discussion of the idea, we realized that it would be insensitive and somewhat exploitative of the homeless individual's struggle. Furthermore, there would be privacy issues with the idea.

After reflecting on the new ideas we discussed, I thought of some additional modifications. For the hygiene kits, we should also include contact information regarding how people can get involved with helping the specific homeless person and the homeless population in general.

For the art installation, we should also have contact or further information for people to learn more about the issue. Ideally, we could also have an audio recording of a conversation between a homeless person and one of us to make the installation more engaging.

3 years ago ·

Jason Cheng joined the project

3 years ago ·

Gabriel Lam

Visiting Skid Row

We visited Skid Row this past Sunday in an attempt to get a better feel of the community as a whole. Jason was part of a church service called LoveLA, which hosted free services for anyone who wanted to come in, and he invited us to take part in the event and to talk to the many individuals who would be there.

When we got there, it was pretty hard to talk to people considering the service was held in a medium-sized room with a live gospel band playing throughout the service. We decided it would be better to just venture out into the streets and get a more open feel for the environment and its members. Unfortunately, we were met with a difficult situation.

Just outside the building that hosted the church service was a crime scene marked with yellow police tape, several cop cars, and a dozen cops patrolling the area. Listening to the journalists and news reporters who were quickly arriving to the scene, we discovered that there had been an earlier shooting involving a policeman and a homeless individual (who was presumably mentally ill and had resisted arrested after getting into an altercation with another homeless individual). While unfortunate, we used the opportunity to talk to the more vocal members of the community who had encircled the area. We managed to get the details of the situation by talking to Pastor Q of the Church Without Walls in Skid Row, and he addressed the prevailing issue of mental health within the community. He made a remark about how the police force responsible for Skid Row's inhabitants were incapable of dealing with the mentally ill, and have created a general stigma against themselves. After further discussion, we left the area before a large crowd of people arrived - yet the incident remained in the back of our heads.

Perhaps we could attempt to address this critical issue of mental illness and police irresponsibility within Skid Row as a possible How Might We statement?

3 years ago ·

Gabriel Lam

3 years ago ·

Gabriel Lam joined the project

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

Post Spring Break Thoughts

After some contemplation, we realized the sensitivity of posting a photo of a homeless individual, of putting a person on display. More ideating was necessary.

Grouping and narrowing down our ideas, we ended up with two. One was the taking the concept of Buy One, Get One but putting a spin on it to become Buy One, Give One. Tying into our problem of self-care and hygiene, we wanted to promote hygiene kits- one for yourself, and one for a homeless individual. Within these kits, there would be a note for the purchaser to put his name, a short salutations, or even contact information. In the purchaser's kit, there would be a little story/quote/fact about a homeless individual. The combination would allow the two individuals to connect on a personal level. This would pinpoint availability, awareness, and accessibility of self-care products for the homeless and could be placed in places like CVS, airports, or college dorms.

The second idea was carried off our previous idea of the art installation. This time, however, there would be no one individual. Instead, different "outfits" would be placed in front of a mirror to allow people (whether it be the outside community, college students, or even the homeless themselves) to see themselves in other people's shoes. This would highlight awareness and understanding, targeting everyone as they can be displayed on streets, in the Arts District, on campus. Accompanied with stats, stories, or quotes, this art display would hopefully generate a better understanding of individuals in the LA community.

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

Hi, we’re Team Homelessness from USC’s DFA. Because we’re faced with the largest population of homeless individuals in the US, we’ve focused on the homeless population on Skid Row. We’ve identified the surface problem that most people ignore the homeless, or at least tend to stray away, ignorant to the deeper issues at hand. After some thought, we came up with recurring themes that could give us some insight into the problem of homelessness. Mental illness, addiction, unemployability, economic recession, lack of affordable housing, and many other issues have perpetuated the vicious, unbreakable cycle of homelessness. Because we cannot tackle the entirety of the problem of homelessness, we decided to focus on one particular aspect: approachability. From this, our team came up with two problem statements to tackle hygiene, the first being: There is a lack of motivation for the homeless to properly utilize existing personal resources for the homeless because of inaccessibility or the lack of genuine care, and the second being: There are a lack of resources for homeless individuals to maintain a well groomed state, which becomes a problem for these individuals when it leads to unemployment, low self-esteem, and unapproachability.
Before we could make our “How Might We” statements, our team identified a few key insights about the homeless community. From our research and observations, the homeless value acceptance, normalcy, independence, ownership, and human interaction. Assumption patterns we came up with included their habitual behaviors like smoking cigarettes and wasted time standing in line listlessly waiting for food or resources. Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy to determine their aspirations, the homeless not only want the basic physiological and safety needs, but also the social need of love, belonging, and acceptance. They want to be recognized, to be heard.
Therefore, our HMW statements narrowed down to: 1. How might we use the desire of a homeless individual to tell one’s story to educate the homeless about self care? and 2. How might we use time waiting in line to offer self-care services. Our ideas ranged from SkidRowChella, GoPro camera montage, Open Mic Show, to mobile hair cutting services, hygiene kits in line, walk through glamour stations, and public photographic art exhibits. In the end, we chose to focus on a photo campaign of some sorts that contain the following facets:
-giving homeless individuals photographs of themselves following a personal makeover
-creating a HONY style webpage focusing on LA’s homeless population
-collecting a quick story quote about homeless individuals
-setting up art posters throughout Los Angeles
Our concluding idea would be to post full body, interactive posters of homeless individuals throughout the Los Angeles community, presented next to a full body mirror and accompanied by a short quote. The photographs would present interactions such as a homeless child with shoes untied asking for an individual’s help, or a homeless woman with an extended arm asking for someone to hold her hand. The idea is to capture the attention of passer-byers, will them to stop ,and visualize themselves interacting with a homeless person. The goal would be to not only create an interesting way to remind individuals of the issue, but also to provide them with the opportunity to envision themselves helping and connecting with the homeless population.
Our action plan for further prototyping and testing is to take our own photographs or collaborate with the creator of Skid Row Stories for photographs of homeless individuals. We would then print out full length posters, and see how well the members of our team can interact with the photograph. After successful internal testing, we would do external testing with the outside community by placing one installation in a heavy traffic place such as DTLA, Arts District, or Venice Beach, silently observing the number and quality of interactions by passer-byers and maybe even a quick survey with those who interacted to determine its impact.

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

Breaking Bread
Tuesday night Homeless Ministry.

Tonight a man wheeled up, asked if there were any more peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. We had just run out, but offered him a baloney or turkey. He reluctantly accepted a baloney sandwich. With faint disdain in his voice, he asked the volunteer who handed him the sandwich if he would eat what we were handing out. The volunteer good-naturedly said he would, and tore off a piece of the sandwich that the homeless individual offered him. They took the bite together, and agreed it was alright. I really admire that volunteer for handling that situation the way he did, so casually, so friendly.

Another homeless individual named Scooter began to tell a few volunteers his account of the shooting that occurred last week. He mentioned how the homeless man was “crazy”, did grab for the policeman’s gun, but the police did not take into consideration his mental illness.

Observations: This week, there were about 40 to 50 people waiting in line for food. There were more women this time, and everyone was mostly in a good mood. There were a few with cell phones, and one man even had a laptop out playing music. In the near future, the church is going to implement toiletry kits, asking for donations. They want items such as deodorant, hand sanitizer, sun screen, chapstick, soap. One thing I noticed from further inspection, most individuals are pretty well kept. With a majority of them, I would never have guessed they were homeless just by their appearance. So it would seem that they do care about hygiene, and make sure to keep up with self-care.

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

We Ideate with Crunchy Pasta

So we met up. There was food. Good music. Chill vibes.

The ideating came along as our bodies began to process the food.

Basically, we started off with one post-it idea, and just built upon that, eventually incorporating all the post-it ideas we had. Last meeting, we identified the problem that we wanted to focus on was either: hygiene+the time spent waiting in line and hygiene+telling your story. We came up with a few interesting ideas that initially stemmed from the lack of water. Where do the homeless get their water? Shelters, weekly events. Are there any public water fountains? Not that we can put our finger on. What if there was some way we could help this issue? Wipe stations->disposable razors, combs-> vending machines-> actual vending machine with a camera that takes pictures and allows you to enter your name into a log, hygiene items hanging from an actual or mechanical tree, photobooth hygiene station. This thought train was an attempt to promote better self-care, as well as provide homeless individuals with a way to express their personal stories, tying in the idea of Humans of Skid Row- Skid Row Stories(HOSR-SRS). There could be the possibility of a street art exhibit, showcasing the people of skid row taken from the cameras on our hygiene sites, or taking it a step further, a live showcase of their talents during something like a SkidRow-Chella/ slam poetry/drum circle performance. Throwing in hygiene, the backstage prep stations would help the homeless get ready for the limelight with haircuts, disposable hygiene items, or hopefully even personally motivate them to improve their self-care if they know people will be watching them perform.

Just some of our ideas on a Sunday evening~

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

Tuesday Nights
Homeless Ministry is an organization run by USC’s Catholic Caruso Church, which provides them with money for a weekly event on Skid Row. This semester, Brian is in charge of running things. There seems to be about 5 regulars, a few who come and go when they’re free, and a couple of newcomers, like Merhawi and I. We start off the night by making sandwiches: peanut butter & jelly; ham, cheese, wheat bread, mustard; and baloney, cheese, white bread, mustard. Then we loaded the van with the food, bananas, and water bottles, picked up some donuts from Spudnuts, and were on our way to 6th & Towne. We were a bit late, so there was already a line of people waiting for us when we arrived. The participants were primarily African American males, and I only saw about 3 females. I had the opportunity to speak to two members. The first encounter was brief; he approached me with a smile, super friendly, introducing himself to me as John. We just spoke about the weather, he said “God bless you”, and left. The second encounter involved a man in a wheelchair. He had arrived too late, even though he lived right across the street in a green tent he pointed out to me, so there were no peanut butter & jelly sandwiches left. He couldn’t eat the meat sandwiches, and as a pescatarian myself, I understood his hesitance. At the same time, it was probably not by choice that he couldn't eat the meat sandwiches, but what do I know. By this time I had introduced myself and learned that his name was Robert. He also went by “Rabbit” (a nickname that came about from something that happened a long time ago). Robert was in a wheelchair and had only one hand, so he asked for my help to wash his hand. After squirting hand sanitizer on, I rubbed his hand with napkins as he explained to me that his hand was so dirty from smoking. He said he smoked too much. Robert then explained to me that God was good, and that we had to thank Him for everything.

I think I will be back next week.

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

Homeless Encounters

Living in Los Angeles has thrown on me numerous experiences with the homeless, whether it be just walking past them while they sleep on the street, giving them money through the car window as they pass through traffic, buying them food after eating at a restaurant and seeing them outside, or going to Skid Row with Monday Night Mission. These are just three observations of three different individuals.

In the past month, I've been to Little Tokyo about 5 times, and each time, I've been approached by a homeless person asking for donations. Each time I've given them some change, but only once did a person stop and talk with me this weekend. His name was Larry. He told me about how he ended up on the streets. Larry was originally from the South, lost his job, fell on hard times, and followed the advice of a church pastor to travel to California where the weather was constant year round. He was trying to find a job but it’s hard when the environment is not conducive to employment- he has to take public transportation, has no income except for the change people spare him, and is surrounded by the wrong kind of people. The only thing that keeps him alive is his faith in the Lord.

My second story is credited to my brother Ryan, who gave a homeless man a ride while it was raining one night. The man was in prison for 14 years for GTA. Despite the fact that prison isn't the ideal place to be, he wanted to return to prison because there wasn't much help for him once he got out. He didn't feel like his patrol officer was any help either, and he just could not get back on his feet. He had been homeless for about a year at that point. Even though he did have family, his parents did not help him pay his way through college, and he resented that. His own family and kids had also moved on and left him to fend for himself.

The last encounter was at the McDonald’s near my home. My brother and I were there for a late night snack and saw the same homeless man we always see there. My brother, being the more sociable one, struck up a conversation with him. His story about how he ended up on the streets started out about how he became disabled, lost his home, could no longer get his disability check, and therefore no longer had an income. He didn't like to ask for money (and he didn't ask us for money) because he felt embarrassed to be homeless. He told us about how he sleeps under a bench, even though he is still in contact with his sister who gave him a cell phone to keep in touch with her. But for some reason, we didn't ask, she couldn't help him out with his situation.

I don’t know how much of these stories are true, how much is fabricated for my sake, but these are their personal accounts.

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang

3 years ago ·

Rachel Tang joined the project

3 years ago ·

Jean Pongsai joined the project

3 years ago ·

Gabriela Schweizer joined the project

3 years ago ·

Robert Sachs joined the project

3 years ago ·

Sara Yang joined the project

3 years ago ·

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