NYC Department of Homeless Services

Navigating Home

What social services can help New Yorkers experiencing homelessness find permanent housing?

Partners and Funders

The Project

Every day, staff at hundreds of shelters across New York City are working hard to help New Yorkers experiencing homelessness find permanent housing – yet rates of success vary widely across the system.

What are the factors that influence people’s ability to exit shelter and return to permanent housing? And what might help staff across the system better support shelter residents on their journey?


Working in close collaboration with staff and residents at a dozen shelters, as well as leaders at the NYC Department of Homeless Services, we explored shelter clients’ journeys, from entry to exit. Building on this research base, we collaboratively designed and field-tested prototypes of new program models and materials (see below).

We are continuing this work in a Phase 2 pilot, evaluating and further refining new processes and/or programmatic innovations to better assist New Yorkers in returning to permanent housing.

what we found

The project team collaborated with shelter staff and clients in ethnographic research activities to identify factors that influence placement. We distinguished a set of factors relating to service quality that shelter staff are able to influence. The more successfully that a shelter managed these factors, the higher performing they tended to be. This project, therefore, focused on these areas of observed opportunity for design intervention.

Shelter staff should build relationships and set expectations to create a better shelter environment

Over the course of the project, the team completed more than 250 hours of research, co-design, and field testing at 12 shelter sites, DHS events, and DSS stakeholder meetings. We also facilitated four co-design workshops for over 100 shelter staff at two housing specialist quarterly meetings, and we furthered our refinements through several rounds of DSS stakeholder meetings.

what we designed

By mapping how clients progress from shelter entry to exit, we defined four areas for staff intervention: preparatory training, on-arrival triage of client needs, the client experience of the journey, and move-out from shelter and getting settled. Through a co-design process, we developed and tested a number of interaction concepts for each opportunity area. We also identified tools that could be created to support each concept and trialed a subset of them during proof-of-concept field-testing.




One intervention we tested in Phase 1 was a journey map, a visualization of a client’s experience from shelter intake to move-out. This visualization, customized for staff and client use across multiple touchpoints, can encourage client agency and momentum. In the following project phase, in addition to refining and simplifying the service journey poster, we used this journey as a framework for a set of related staff and client tools.


Project Team

Amanda Finuccio headshot
Amanda Finuccio
Natalia Radywyl headshot
Natalia Radywyl
Natalie Sims headshot
Natalie Sims
Erika Lindsey