FACULTY SPOTLIGHT: Can Design Help Combat Homelessness?

Evictions are a serious national issue and extreme weather events displace thousands, houselessness is one of our society’s biggest challenges. Professor Willie Baronet is excited to participate in the new exhibition Houseless where Alaska’s Anchorage Museum invites visitors to considers ways design can contribute to solutions.

Design thinking helps break down complex problems and integrate new information and opinions while acknowledging there is no one right answer. The Houseless project provides a space for awareness, education, and creative problem-solving around housing security supporting individuals and communities in problem-solving together.

Willie Baronet began WE ARE ALL HOMELESS in 1993 due to the awkwardness he felt when he pulled up to an intersection and encountered a person holding a sign, asking for help. Like many, Baronet wrestled with whether or not he was doing good by giving them money. “Mostly I struggled with my moral obligations, and how my own choices contributed in conscious or unconscious ways to the poverty I was witnessing. I struggled with the unfairness of the lives people are born into, the physical, mental and psychological handicaps. In my struggle, I avoided eye contact with those on the street, unwilling to really see them, and in doing so avoided seeing parts of myself. That began to change once I began asking them if they would sell their signs.” Baronet’s relationship to the homeless has been powerfully and permanently altered. The conversations and connections have left an indelible mark on his heart. He explains “I still wrestle with personal questions regarding generosity, goodness, compassion, and guilt. And what it means to be homeless: practically, spiritually, emotionally? Is home a physical place, a building, a structure, a house? Or is it a state of being, a sense of safety, of being provided for, of identity? I see these signs as signposts of my own journey, inward and outward, of reconciling my own life with my judgments about those experiencing homelessness.”

Opening night, WE ARE ALL HOMELESS at the Anchorage Museum

Houseless is an installation of hundreds of the signs Baronet has purchased over the past two decades. “This is the largest WE ARE ALL HOMELESS exhibit to date, and I’m honored to be a part of Houseless at the Anchorage Museum. I love how this project is integrated into the classes I teach at SMU, where many of my students have volunteered to help AND have been inspired to start their own purpose-driven projects, which contributes to our desire to teach principled advertising. I’m also very excited to be working with students from SMU’s Human Rights program led by Rick Halperin. Some of his students have volunteered to work on the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS non-profit impact campaign in order to meet their class requirements. I always love finding ways to collaborate across disciplines at SMU” explains Baronet.

To learn more about this initiative please visit http://www.weareallhomeless.org/ and watch Willie’s award-winning documentary Signs of Humanity which is available to stream on Amazon.