screenshot of Open Source Homelessness Initiative

John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects’ New Tool Merges Data with Humanity

The Open Source Homelessness Initiative, a winner of Metropolis’ inaugural Responsible Disruptors competition, lets visitors peruse case studies, reports, and news about building for the unsheltered. 

Disruption in technology is often associated with negative consequences like social disorder, environmental degradation, and economic marginalization. Facebook (now Meta) founder Mark Zuckerberg summed up this ethos with his early motto “Move fast and break things.” But disruption can also be beneficial. When done right, it can encourage health, wellness, efficiency, and equity. In that spirit, Metropolis is thrilled to share the winners of its first Responsible Disruptors program, honoring A&D technology projects that represent significant change for the better. 

“If you think about communication as the primary aspect of architecture, no matter the project, it all comes back down to education, identity, and things that make us feel heard—it’s about creating a place where people can be themselves,” says Alice Kimm, principal at Los Angeles–based John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects (JFAK). The value of such an approach is evident in her firm’s Open Source Homelessness Initiative (OSHI), a nonprofit database created for architects, designers, and unsheltered people to share resources, with the intent to accelerate the eradication of homelessness. 

During the firm’s work on the Council District 8 Navigation Center (NAVIG8), a facility in South L.A. that offers support services for unsheltered people, Kimm and her colleagues noticed the difficulty of researching relevant past projects. “We discovered that it’s hard to find information on particularly what works and what doesn’t. There are lots of restrictions and problems that people bump into along the way, such as the requirements of different funding agencies,” explains fellow JFAK principal John Friedman. 

In June 2021, the OSHI was launched with an initial group of case studies and past projects across civic, residential, infrastructural, and other frameworks. The firm’s goal is to post 50 projects on the site every quarter beginning this year. Although the case study collection is a key aspect of the database, the site also provides access to citywide reports for Los Angeles, funding opportunities, and a news feature. “You can find out what’s going on in L.A. with respect to homelessness,” says Kimm, who notes the team is receiving plenty of positive feedback on the undertaking, which sees around 4,000 unique users each month. An arts-focused section highlights relevant media and showcases unsheltered people who are creating art themselves. “Besides being a practical resource, maybe the OSHI’s greatest service can also just be to change hearts and minds about homelessness,” says Friedman. “People vote to spend millions of dollars on affordable housing and then say they don’t want it built in their neighborhoods. There’s still fear, you know? But that has to be changed.”

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