One drop after another can become an ocean.
One barrier for the homeless is the difficulty in accessing water -- for drinking, for washing, for cleaning clothes and items. Our research uncovered story after story of being treated as invisible because of smelling not fresh, of trouble getting job interviews, of thirst, and how water and soap can be the best tool for public health.
We also learned that in San Francisco, there are at most nine places those without funds or a home can take a shower and wash their clothes. But many don't want to leave their home area, or can't afford to, or can't tell when facilities are open. But washing is critical: we heard more than once that showering "makes me feel human again".
So we proposed and prototyped One Drop. One Drop is a service system designed to start with the smallest drop in the bucket, but through co-design with the affected population, discover the most pressing and easiest to implement needs and grow in a modular way.
Our first touchpoint is awareness. We learned that this population often gets its news about services and opportunities through visits to social service offices, through locally posted notices, and through outreach. So we designed a Tetra Pak based "water bag": a foldable, disposable "bucket". On it is printed (in many languages) locations and instructions about our One Drop areas; the water bags serve as awareness for our One Drop areas, as directions, and as a way for the homeless to transport water in a sanitary and ecological way.
The One Drop areas, in their first iteration, feature a basin, a faucet for filling water bags, a drying rack, a place to refill water bottles, and basic green space, which is fed by grey water from the basin and other runoff. The green space and friendly design are key -- as our project is focused on feeling human, the spaces have to look inviting and manageable by humans, not like access points for washing off animals or cars.
The water refill station also serves as an ancillary microfunding system. Though the water is free, there is a coin slot for donations at the One Drop logo; we also plan on a mobile app that features a single-touch interface, though which we encourage people to tap to donate a small, set amount, whenever they think about water, cleaning, or the homeless. It's a way to contribute and -- in a strange twist -- reduce your guilt via slacktivism.
The One Drop area will initially be maintained by staff and volunteer organizers, who play a key role. Their "real" role will be to get to know the users personally, and invite them to comment and help work on the project. This social co-design would, while helping teach the population skills and encourage engagement, effectively be a continuous process of discovery. We suspect features that grow out of this include showers, medical outreach, and community gardens. It's our hope that this process draws the users into new skill areas and training, and perhaps entrepreneurship to the level of managing the garden and selling produce.
This is obviously not a 100x profitable project. But the funding model of Lava Mae -- grants from Tides.org and donations -- is a proven one, and One Drop, with its mindful land use aspect, can also draw from funding from SPUR and other urban land use and health agencies.
We though long and hard about how to make the most impact with the most implementable, smallest prototype. There are many challenges, but we hope this could come to pass, for the public good.