Building a Community
Building a Community
A step towards building a sense of belonging and provides social support to single adult residents with a history of chronic homelessness.
We aim to promote community interactions by improving engagement levels at community events and building a social activity platform to further strengthen relationships among residents.
As a human, we all crave for sense of belonging. Research shows that a strong social relationship can affect mental health, physical health, and mortality. Being part of a community provides social support to get through the stresses of daily life, creates empathy for others, and forges a shared identity.
The challenge of building community at Harrison Hotel is first recognizing that individual residents are at various stages in their lives and have different communication needs. There is a spectrum of experience in terms of personal trauma, physical and/or mental health, substance abuse, and familiarity/comfort with communal housing. Our aim is to respect individual needs for space and healing, while also building a community of support for all residents.
ABOUT HARRISON HOTEL
Harrison Hotel is an affordable housing community in Oakland, California, that provides housing for single adult residents with a history of chronic homelessness. Lifelong Supportive Housing Program (SHP) partners with Harrison Hotel housing owners and property managers to support residents in health and social services, housing stability, employment, outreach and engagement. Together, Lifelong and Harrison Hotel are dedicated to improving the overall quality of life of residents by working to build a community that values diversity, compassion, and non-judgment. Team Reach focused on innovating and refining communication systems at Harrison Hotel.
Team: 5 People
Time Frame: 3 Months
My Role: User Researcher, Experience Design
Through appreciative inquiry and generative research methods, we interviewed 28 MEMBERS OF HARRISON HOTEL AND RESIDENTS to gain a better sense of their feelings, needs, and motivations as they relate to current communication systems at Harrison Hotel. We also hosted a larger group activity with residents called a Monthly Lunch and Learn to gather feedback on our social activity platform prototype.
INTERVIEWS WITH STAFF AND RESIDENTS
Then we interviewed 10 staff members and 18 residents. These one-on-one conversations helped us gain a better understanding of their point of view and experiences living and working at HH, which we’ll dive into later.
We gave the residents a kit, where in they could express their emotions by playing with emoticons. placements. Shared cookies along with drawing material where in they had to draw a day in their life. We also provided them with disposable camera where in they had been asked to click things which they liked or disliked in context with Harrison Hotel.
To have a clear understanding of these design opportunities, we started with field visits -- our fly on the wall observations. We studied the floor plan of HH to figure out the highest traffic areas for interaction. We also , attended Lifelong and HH staff meetings to learn about the HH ecosystem, and how staff and residents interact with each other.
After leading several interviews with different members, and other several residents of the hotel,
we saw an opportunity to build a sense of community centered around open communication and need finding. But before we get into that, let us introduce to you each party’s perspective first.
HARRISON HOTEL’S STAFF’S PERSPECTIVE
During our research process we have met with staff members like Chris, Brenda, and Tammy, individually. When they were asked about their vision for Harrison Hotel in the future, the answer was common and clear:
The staff want to create a better sense of community among the residents:
- In the current situation, they complained about a lot of residents doing hard drugs, and a lot of them dealing with different kinds of mental illnesses.
- In addition to that, residents now consider Harrison Hotel as a shelter more than a home. They don’t interact with their neighbours and there is no sense of community in the building whatsoever.
The staff also want to bring the outside community in:
- They want to create partnerships with artists, students, restaurants, and organizations.
- They want their partners to come in Harrison Hotel and share their skills or knowledge or whatever they could offer to the residents.
- Therefore they believe that this will create strong connections with the world outside of Harrison Hotel.
HARRISON HOTEL’S RESIDENTS’ PERSPECTIVE
Following the meetings during the first couple weeks with the staff, we wanted to meet with several residents in order to form a global idea of the situation and be able to see the future of Harrison Hotel from different perspectives. In order to do that, we contacted Harrison Hotel and asked them to put us in contact with some long term residents that would be willing to have a conversation. Here is when we were able to meet individually with Peachy, Sabrina, and Laverne. And as the staff described them, those residents are at totally different ends of the residents spectrum so it would be helpful for us to form a global perspective. During those meetings, we were able to better understand the perspective of the residents:
The residents want to feel that they are cared about:
- They want the staff to ask them personally how they feel or if they need anything.
- They want more human contact, which they think is lacking in the current situation.
- “What the residents want and what the managers provide is completely different”
The residents want to go out and see the outside world:
- A lot of the residents at Harrison Hotel have never been out of Oakland.
- They want to go on simple field trips that would take them to the Fisherman’s
- Wharf, or the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Golden Gate Park.
- They want to go on short walk in Oakland to some restaurants that offer them good food, or new food they never tried before.
The residents want to feel human again, and want to be treated that way. They want to enjoy the simple pleasures:
- They want to go to the movies to watch recently released movies and eat popcorn.
After synthesising all data gathering, we came to one clear conclusion:
There is a gap in understanding between what residents want for community activities and what staff believes that residents want.
- Before bringing in the outside community, the focus should be on creating a forum for open communication inside Harrison Hotel to better understand residents’ feelings and needs.
- Creating a stronger communication system could help build trust, accountability, and a sense of community in the longer term.
With our research findings, we re-defined the question
How might we build the sense of community at Harrison Hotel by encouraging everyone to participate and cater to the needs of each resident?
We designed a physical social activity platform for residents to interact with one another (and with staff), communicate their needs and wishes, and see what’s happening in their community. The platform is designed to be interactive, easy to understand, and centrally located. Some of the main features are:
- Check-in Question featuring prompts that ask residents how they’re currently feeling and emotion stickers and/or other tools to interact with the board.
- Activities Wish List and Drop-off Box to enable residents to indicate what activities they would like to participate in and see others’ ideas. There will also be a drop-off box to collect individual replies to longer questionnaires or for privacy.
- Community Celebration Section that could display photos from past community events and feature the photo/bio of a resident and staff member of the month.
- Upcoming Events will display information about the next community event, how to get involved, and and other information from the greater Bay Area community.
Through multiple meetings and interviews with staff and residents, we’ve gained a better understanding of community needs and built a starting point for communication. The social activity platform aims to engage residents and encourage them to express their needs and wishes. The platform is designed to give residents an opportunity to have their voice heard, while also celebrating the existing community and promoting future participation. We hope that with continuous outreach and engagement, residents will feel encouraged to contribute their ideas, participate in more events, and build a sense of belonging within the Harrison Hotel community.