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Letter 009 - Civic Pivot


Read letters from an antihero

Letter 009 - Civic Pivot

Christopher Bartley


Last week's Civic Hacknight was awesome. It was a catalyst for the next major pivot Antihero NYC is about to make. The first big shift was changing from a content marketing platform to a design-oriented one. It aligns with Antihero's evolved philosophy and new research.

This next pivot will cause me to address the relationship between shame and homelessness sooner than expected. The goal is for the site to address both long-term personal development and short-term shame relief. So the big picture is to get you to empower other antiheroes on or offline. And the small brush strokes of the canvas will provide immediate relief to those antiheroes you will eventually uplift.

The specific focus of relief is NYC shelters. Also known as transitional housing facilities.

This will position our fellow antiheroes in a better place to undertake the counsel and training you've developed while being here. It's hard to focus on personal development when you're still thinking about where you're going to lay your head for the night and find your next meal. Jesus' miracles were designed for that very purpose. No one could hear about this elusive "Kingdom" until experiencing tangible, quantifiable change.

I'll be doing this through civic technology. It's a whole new world for me. Since web development and public policy aren't my strong suit yet, I'll be collaborating with others to start creating a space on this site with features like DHS and privately-owned shelter maps and directories or public rating systems for transitional facilities to increase transparency and accountability. This is not so short-term, but if DHS clients feel as if their voice is being heard online and if changes are being made accordingly, the short-term relief of validation and peace of mind is a start.

But there are some critical questions, like:

  • How many homeless antiheroes own a smart phone or computer to even search and receive shelter information or rate their living conditions?
  • How will they know to find the information at Antihero NYC?
  • What makes this comprehensive directory or visual map different from others that may already be out there?
  • How would partnering with developers who created existing shelter mapping technology be more helpful?
  • What would a partnership look like? Does a resource like a visual map of shelters live on our site or redirects to theirs?
  • Are there free or low cost ways to produce this data offline?

There are many pieces to the puzzle. But the immediate goal is to create ownership and a sense of autonomy within the homeless community, which will begin to reduce shame.

Imagine not having a choice over which shelter you go to, but still being able to read everything about it and knowing what to expect.

Imagine coming from a late night shift and your train is out of service due to a storm and your shelter's contact info isn't readily available online or via 311 to call ahead of time, so you won't lose your bed for the night.

Imagine being checked in to a shelter for the first time and although you can't choose where you're placed, you're at least able to suggest to the caseworker a shelter location near your current job site.

Imagine not having a smart phone or laptop, but still having SMS service or a well-designed, clear, uncluttered and readable booklet to help you make the next step.

Imagine receiving an SMS that tells you how many people are currently waiting to be serviced, including your estimated wait-time at an HRA building, so you can plan your day accordingly. (Sometimes people wait 5+ hours to be called up and aren't seen that day, only to have to come back at the mercy of missing more hours from work or taking care of their children)

Some of these are realistic, while others might be impossible, due to the current structure in place. But one thing is certain: The current system needs to change. Right now it's erring on the side of facilitating shame instead of reducing it. Municipal reports have surfaced that affirms this. And the shaming nuances that the DHS system unintentionally creates causes many to stay on the streets—which perpetuates the shaming cycle.

But change is possible. Salt Lake City implemented a 10-year plan to reduce homelessness and they went from 3,000 people on the streets to now just 400. Change is possible. And my shift towards civic engagement sooner than later will allow Antihero to be a part of that change.

As things develop, I'll keep you in the loop.


P.S. I guess adding titles can't hurt. But I'll try to keep 'em short.