Angie, Rita, and Bill use the drop-in center. On the corner. To take a shower. Do their laundry. Have a hot cup of coffee. In a porcelain mug - not a paper take-away cup.

A lot of labels get attached to those who use the drop-in center: low-income, homeless, precariously housed, mentally ill, alcohol dependent, drug addicted, HIV positive, Hepatics C positive, sexual abuse survivors.

We want to look beyond the labels. And get to know the people. Including the 19 people who have died since December 2012.

There has been an unprecedented and alarming increase in premature and preventable deaths over the last 14 months. More than in the 25 year history of St. Christopher House's Drop-in Center (now called West Neighborhood House). And that's despite the fact that many of these people were in contact with health and social welfare systems. And that many had case managers.

So we want to better understand what is going on. 

What are the gaps between the service systems and the lived realities of people like Angie, Rita and Bill? And what do these gaps tell us about the kinds of informal & formal supports that need to be added, tweaked, and even dismantled? What's a good outcome in this context? What's beyond survival?

We'll spend 10 days collecting stories. Spending time with people as they use the drop-in center and interface with services. We'll also probe what happens in and around their service usage: at night, on the weekends, and when the professionals aren't around.

From these stories, we hope to surface the disconnects and begin to explore what could be different. Our aim is to re-formulate the challenge - as experienced by people - and attract the resources to move to a full Prototyping Project. With a local team at the helm. Where we actually make and test a range of interventions.

To get ready, we're reading about addictions, homeless policies, mental health treatment, suicide, drug overdoses. We're inspired by first-person narratives - and how to redefine identities, resources, and social networks. Like Tracy's narrative. 

We'll spend two days recruiting people, and 6 days hearing their narratives, and most importantly, seeing their day-to-day behaviors. We'll come along to interactions with service providers. And collect documents, artifacts, and photos of policies and backend systems.

We'll then write-up and synthesize what we're learning. We'll aim to produce a book of reflections to raise the visibility and, hopefully, attract future champions and funders.