On June 22, 2023, two members of the Medici Road team – Thomas Houston and Alyssa Smaldino – facilitated a FUSE Corps Innovation Lab with the United Government (UG) of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, KS. Their FUSE Fellow, DeWayne Bright, Sr., is working to build a comprehensive housing strategy for the UG, which will be the first of its kind. With no centralized housing authority and a surging homelessness crisis, the UG engaged Medici Road to guide a set of diverse stakeholders through a process to generate creative solutions that can significantly increase access to housing while improving overall wellbeing in the region.

Leaning on our human-centered design process, we started with building empathy – a key foundational step for any ideation that seeks improvements in social wellbeing. We reviewed the stark data to remember that the current housing crisis and related health outcomes are a result of historic and chronic racism. Today, Black renters are nearly 60% more likely to be cost burdened than white renters, and the implications of this are enormous; an unhoused person’s life expectancy is 30 years lower than someone with stable housing (2022 Wyandotte County Community Health Assessment). 

To put this data into perspective, we watched the story of James, a homeless resident of Kansas City, KS who was interviewed on the local news about how the City was displacing him from his temporary housing camp. Participants reflected on a series of questions that helped them put themselves in his shoes. When it comes to the cycles of poverty and homelessness that residents like James face, there are no easy answers or clear pathways out. That sense was reinforced when participants built out Journey Maps for four different homelessness cases. Though they were fictional scenarios, each of them mirror real situations and remind us of how diverse the faces of homelessness are.

Consider: Who are the people behind the homelessness data in your city? Are there ways you might deepen empathy for their situations in order to better meet their needs?

Once we were grounded in empathy for the people who are most impacted by Kansas City, KS’s housing disparities, we imagined what might be possible. Participants worked through a design sprint to create viable solutions for addressing homelessness and improving wellbeing in the region. Some of their ideas include: 

  • A healing community that offers transitional support between homelessness and stable housing
  • An app that offers Kansas City, KS residents quick access to all local services that could support a houseless person in need
  • Transformation of preserved buildings into 24-hour Life Reference Centers
  • Vouchers that can cover rent

As outsiders looking in on the community that was gathered to generate these creative ideas, we see tremendous potential for the Kansas City, KS community to rally around effective, sustainable solutions to increase housing access and improve quality of life. What it will take now is political will to allocate the necessary resources and community will to believe in–and act on–new possibilities. We look forward to standing alongside them in this journey and working together to rewrite historical injustices. 

Thanks to DeWayne Bright, Sr., Rev. Cedric Rowan of First Baptist Church, and all of the Innovation Lab participants for a fruitful day of ideation! 

Meanwhile, let’s keep this conversation going. Share with us how you have seen empathy play a breakthrough role in community development.