We want youth experiencing homelessness to accomplish their goals

Milestone App for Seattle Mayor's Office

From 2016 to 2017, my team conducted an investigation of youth and young adult homelessness in Seattle. This is one of the initiatives that came out of that body of work.

Milestone is a collaborative goal tracking tool that augments case management and supports young adults in achieving their goals. Unlike existing service planning tools used by case managers, Milestone plans are owned by and readily accessible to the young person, allowing them to 1) track their own progress, 2) more quickly connect to their case worker, and 3) connect their goals to existing services.

The initial concept was created by Artefact after a series of workshops with stakeholders in 2016. When I joined the team, I restarted the design process and partnered with case managers and young people experiencing housing instability through the YMCA.

Research

Three core objectives of our application System map Interviews with case managers and young people

Engagement

Testing with young people Testing with case managers

Findings

Split screen with case manager comments and youth UI

In addition to research conducted specifically for this app, I drew on insights from my team's larger body of work on homelessness. We used a structured approach to combine data and analytical insight with design principles in order to generate a deeper understanding of the experience of homelessness among youth and young adults. As part of that work, I interviewed young people between ages 15 and 24 who have experienced homelessness.

Example insights below:

Supportive relationships with parents and other caring adults are important because they serve as a protective factor that reduces and prevents the damaging effects of youth and young adult homelessness. Social connectedness is critical to a young person’s development. Supportive relationships help young people build resiliency and develop the cognitive, social, and practical skills they’ll need to become successful adults. Service providers and secondary caregivers can buffer the impact of trauma and stress if they are able to connect with young people.

“My friend, we was staying with her for half of freshman year. Her mom, she’ll be like, If you guys need anything… when it gets cold, you guys can come stay over here. You guys can come shower, wash your clothes, and do all this extra if you guys need to. Just because you guys are homeless or whatever, don’t mean that you guys should act like you can’t come over here and shower and stuff.”
– T., Age 17

Experiencing housing instability and homelessness affects young people differently. Some develop subclinical responses that reflect resiliency, while others develop clinical conditions like PTSD. Young people experiencing homelessness report having trouble identifying, regulating, and expressing their emotions. Emotional and mental health needs that need to be addressed as a part of supporting young peoples’ transition to stability. Culturally competent, trauma-informed, and strengths-based service providers create positive experience for young people.

“My old counselor still works at the shelter so I called her once while I was in an abusive relationship, but when I was on the phone with her, I couldn’t talk. I was on the phone with her and I couldn’t speak or anything. Dhe didn’t think I was there so she hanged up. I couldn’t really talk to her cuz it’s hard to talk to anybody about everything. I wasn’t in touch with anybody because it’s hard to be in touch with anybody in a situation like I was. When I was with my ex and his family.”
– T., Age 24

Young people experiencing homelessness require individualized support to ensure they achieve educational and employment goals which will lead to stabilizing jobs. Transition points from one level of education to another, or into a new job, are particularly critical moments where youth and young adults need support to maintain forward momentum. Although the majority of the youth we spoke with expressed an interest in pursuing higher education and a career, none were socially, emotionally, or academically prepared for the challenges of the workplace or college life.

“It was an experience for me. [...] It was from 7:30 – 11:30. To me, it was like a real job. It taught me how to wake up earlier. To wake up on time to get to the money! My sister’s god father was talking about how he was proud because sometimes I wasn’t really waking up on time for school. He said, 'you’ve actually been going every day'. He didn’t really think I was going to be waking up at 6:30. I would wake up early to go. He said, 'I’m proud of you for waking up early,'' and stuff like that.”
– C., Age 17, discussing a job readiness program through her high schoool

Design Solution

Paper prototype Wireframes Interactive prototype

Outcomes

This year, we worked with the University of Washington’s i-school to set up a capstone project with a team of students. Milestone is now ready to be demonstrated as a functional prototype. Desktop and mobile views have been developed and can be used to solicit funding and in the implementation of a program pilot.

With the completion of prototype development work, the next steps for Milestone are to 1) partner with an organization to test the impact of the tool through a pilot and 2) identify funding streams which could continue to sustain the app and bring Milestone to scale.

UW Capstone Team

Photos by Olli Tumelius

Milestone App Screens