Homelessness in Pittsburgh

Systems Mapping

Wicked Problem Design Project, 2019

Team Members: Janet Peng, Langston Wells, Franklin Guttman, Ashley Burbano, Miso Demko, Deklin Versace


The National Coalition Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) indicates that the current national average for the gentrification of Qualified Census Tracts (QCT) is 9%. According to the same study done by NCRC, Pittsburgh is the eighth most gentrified city in America with 20% of the QCTs being gentrified between 2000 and 2013. The lack of available low-income housing along with the added stress from insufficient social program funding within the city of Pittsburgh reinforces feedback loops that funnel individuals into homelessness. The focus of our research and model specifically analyzes the impacts of city planning, public perception of extremely low-income households, and personal health on transitional, episodic, and chronic displacement. This analysis also indicates pain points within the current cycle and three points of intervention to push forward the conversation in regards to providing housing subsidies, changing misinformed societal viewpoints of the homeless through primary school education, and breaking food-waste cycles.


Wicked problem: a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.

Our preliminary research began with mapping out the three horizons of homelessness. From there, we separated our initial impressions of the causes of homelessness into two categories: personal and structural roots.

We then began digitally mess mapping to find the direct and indirect correlations between seven nodes relating to homelessness. Topics include reincarceration, housing affordability, household problems,  urban structure, societal viewpoint, social programs, and mental health.

Miro Mess Map Overview

Details of Correlations/Contributing Factors

Stakeholder Analysis and Potential Intervention Points 

Mess Map Organization and Iterations

We played around with visual representation with an emphasis on the idea of housing insecurity as a cycle. From circles to spirals, we ultimately decided to incorporate the multiple cycles into a user journey funnel with interventions placed at different points between phases of homelessness.

Final Map Overview


Contributing Feedback Loops of Homelessness

Three Phases of Homelessness & Their Feedback Loops

Intervention One Improving Housing-Based Policies

Change starts at a legislative level despite bureaucratic red tape.​ Using mini mapping systems, our first intervention is based on housing-based policies in order to support long term program sustainability. We used a research method to diagram a projected outlook in 35 years and then in 50 years. 


Intervention Two Shifting Priorities in Education

Nurturing inspiration and confidence to change societal viewpoint. From a micro to macro standpoint, we decided to focus on the primary education level in order to change societal viewpoint on a macro scale. Primary school education is the most important stage of development so through early exposure, we hope to instill empathy and rid ungrounded assumptions regarding homelessness

Intervention Three Breaking Food Waste Cycles

Reevaluating where our food ends up for community engagement. Extending beyond the primary causes of homelessness, we also wanted to activate an indirect connection towards homelessness in order to incentivize businesses to aid homeless individuals back into society. Using a rating scale for businesses similar to the food inspection system, people will begin to consider where they're putting their money, effecting the greater ecosystem of both food waste and displacement.