The Search For Local Proxies to the Chilean Refugee Experience

I have begun searching for local access points to empathy and user-focus in redesigning the post-disaster experience. The list of suggestions for local proxies was rather short: embassies and the homeless community (with the notion that the homeless represent mini-disasters). What follows is a progress update.

The Haitian and Chilean consulates didn’t pan out leads to refugee groups or refugees. I found a place called CCIL (normally a homeless rehabilitation program) that housed Haitian refugees immediately after the 2010 earthquake, but their contact form and email are non-operational. I will try calling them later in the week to see if any of the refugees are still there and possibly available.

Today, I prepared food and served the homeless on Team B at Church of Our Saviour. While I enjoyed helping out and meeting some really nice people, I’m not sure if talking to the homeless is getting me closer to design ideation. I learned tips for homelessness: 1. The St. Paul Church (associated with De Paul University) has daily meal service except on Sundays, 2. The Night Ministries Bus goes around neighborhoods serving food and providing non-prescription medication along with a dose of ministry but lately it’s been overrun by “the selfish beggars who don’t care about anyone but themselves,” 3. A bunch of inmates were recently released and they settled under Wacker, making it unsafe.

Perhaps the most useful insight that I’ve gained from asking the homeless, “What do you carry with you to maintain a sense of home?” or, “What tangible possessions do you value most?” is that no one (n=3) actually answered with something tangible. Dave, who likes to build things and is having trouble rebuilding his life because of a bad back said that “community” was the most important because, “Everything else gets taken away from you so it loses meaning.” Sean, who used to be a carpenter and is convinced that he’s owed a lot of Social Security, said that “friends” were the most important. He has a sister who is an inspector “which is higher than a lieutenant” in the 18th ward that he “tries not to bother too much.” Le, who seemed genuinely happy, answered, “inner harmony and projecting a sense of inner peace to others.”

I can’t forget the image of a scrappy looking man bringing me a plate of spaghetti and chicken wings. He kept shoving it towards me, finally saying, “microondas,” which I remember to mean, “microwave” in Spanish so I heated his food. I am pretty sure he didn’t speak any English. Later, when we were serving seconds, he was stopped in line (because the server was getting him his first plate of everything) and someone wanted him to move over, which led to shoving. It was pretty clear that he didn’t understand what was going on and immediately felt threatened. I wish I remembered enough Spanish to have a conversation with him.

I’ll try this again in January.

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