Biological Sciences


Oyanedel-Craver, Vinka

Advisor Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering




Co-Design, Practical Problem Solving, a homeless person, Paul Polak, Poverty

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Improving the Quality of Life of Homeless Persons using Co-Design and Paul Polack’s

12 Steps for Practical Problem Solving

Nana Ofei-Tenkorang

Sponsor: Vinka Oyanedel-Craver, Civil and Environmental Engineering

The Stewart B. McKinney Act (1994) defines a homeless person as one who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence; and has a primary night time residency that is (A) either a publicly or privately supervised operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations, (B) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings and, (C) an institution that provides a temporary residence or service for individuals intended to be institutionalized. This definition includes those people who are on the streets or in shelters and people who face eviction from private dwellings or institutions and who have no residence or resource to obtain housing.

There are two major reasons why people become homeless in Rhode Island: (A) lack of affordable housing and, (B) lack of adequate income. A diverse group of people experience homelessness – namely, children, the elderly, individuals and families in both rural communities and in the cities. The number of homeless people has been on the increase over the past few years. For example there were 484 more homeless people in 2011 than in 2007 who visited shelters in the State which accounts for a 12% increase.

Considering the increase in numbers of affected people, I have tried to develop some practices that improve the quality of life of a homeless person. In this study I try to answer the following question, Is it possible for a homeless person to have access to a better life? One of the best strategies to obtain an answer to this question is to go out and talk to them. This is where co-design comes in. The term co-design simply means developing or improving a service or device together with the user and customers.

To address the root causes of homelessness with the aim to improve the quality of many lives, I utilized Paul Polak’s 12 steps to practical problem solving. He has successfully used this approach to develop alternative solutions to eradicate poverty in developing countries. These steps not only apply to global poverty alleviation, but can also be used to solve problems found in many disciplines.

The goal of this study is to develop a prototype that solves a common problem faced by a person who is homeless. To do this I selected a group of 18 Rhode Island residents who are homeless or on the edge of homelessness and asked them to complete a 13-question survey which I developed. Results of the survey showed that resources such as service providers, labor services, and transportation are not easily accessible. Using co-design, a prototype will be developed to solve these common problems faced by the homeless.


Co-Design, Practical Problem solving, a homeless person, Paul Polak, Poverty

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