Donating to street homeless individuals’ personalized needs and goals.

for Design and Policy for Humanitarian Aid (CMU Course)


Street Homeless.png


3 months, ongoing



Julia Scherb (Global Studies)
Jordan Thomas (Public Policy)
Skye ‘Aulani Cardenas (Public Policy)
Daniel See (Art/Decision Science)

My Role

Design Research, UX/UI Design,
leading design facilitation and service design effort


Policy Analysis/Case Studies
Territory/Stakeholder Mapping
Competitive Analysis
Speed-dating (storyboards & digital prototypes)


The Initial Challenge

“How might we effectively channel public good will to address the ‘effort gap’ between panhandling and public services for homeless individuals?”

We originally started our exploration seeking to eliminate panhandling as a practice, in recognition of the awkward and sometimes hostile interactions amongst street homeless individuals, passer-bys, and adjacent business owners.

Through explorations, we discovered the different scenarios of panhandling in Pittsburgh and identified the critical “effort” gap between low-barrier and high impact solutions for both the public and the homeless. This discover made us shift our focus to addressing the effort gap and how resources can be channeled more effectively.

Effort Gap.png

Pivot: From Reinforcing to Challenging the System

“We spent 2 hours calling 30+ shelters and service providers, and no one would take in Amy who’s been out for two days. It was 20 degrees outside. We had to think differently.”

It was early November and we were out on the street looking for homeless individuals to talk to – to speed-date various versions of “saving account” that’d incentivize homeless individuals to apply for public services.

Our encounter with Amy shattered our trust with the existing system – she desperately needed a shelter bed, and we couldn’t find her one place to stay (at the time we had many shelter director’s phone numbers and a full list of resources at hands reach).

“I want to go home,” Amy said weakly, “at least it’s not cold in Florida.” We shared her story and fundraised $160 in 20 minutes on Facebook. With $160, Amy had a one-way bus ticket to Florida and extra for food.

Did we solve Amy’s homeless issue? No. But did we help get Amy to where she wanted and respected her choice? Yes.

We saw an opportunity for a more humanized approach to this wicked problem of street homelessness.


The Current Proposal

A goal-based donation service for street homeless individuals to receive donations from passer-bys who look to fund the individuals’ specific needs.

Concept Storyboard.png

Prototype and Testing for the Donors

Our biggest risk for developing this service was adoption from the donors. To further verify our concept, we created and have been testing the low-fi prototype with friends and students and staff on campus.

We continue to tweak the interactions and address major concerns (ex. credibility). However, we decided to move forward with the idea after receiving sizable positive feedback.

>> Try the prototype here. <<

Prototype v1.png

Key Considerations

For Homeless Individuals

  • Emphasizing in-person contact and collaboration during all interactions

  • Provide homeless individuals agency and dignity through different fundraising options (ex. completing profiles, fundraising on the street)

For Donors

  • Recognize that donors are essential for the success of this service but prioritizing equity and respect to the individuals over features that increase sum of donation (ex. deadlines, algorithmic ordering)

  • Explore various way of demonstrating service credibility (ex. partnering with well-known non-profit)

For Service Providers (outreach professionals)

  • Clarify the connection and distinction from existing services

  • Consider untapped resources (ex. social work students, etc.) as well as unintended consequences

  • Clarify the distinction from existing commercial platforms and competitors (ongoing analysis)


The Process

(detailed process documentation coming soon)

0 Design Process.png