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We are a multidisciplinary innovation studio working with diverse partners to understand sustainability challenges and identify holistic, resilient solutions, and we are committed to training the next generation of leaders.

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Insights, inspiration and opportunities to create a more vibrant and resilient future.

INSIGHT: Intractable?

Peter Nicholson

The Best Intentions
I made a token gesture. The homeless man had asked me for change in a coffee shop. Rather than give him cash, I bought him a breakfast sandwich and slice of cake. I thought he might enjoy some sustenance and then, satisfied, leave. He didn’t, but rather loitered and solicited other patrons for more. I don’t blame him for trying to leverage one small windfall into more, although it made me cringe. Chicago's homelessness issues have, from my observation, gotten a lot more visible, if not also more acute. Seeing people sleeping on the train, begging in the Loop, and soliciting patrons in coffee shops is evidence of a societal failure that disturbs me. I have little comprehension of the nature of this phenomenon. For each of the last several years, I’ve undertaken a self-initiated sustainable innovation project intended to challenge my comfort zone. They have been edifying and provided insights I wouldn't have gained any other way. Will homelessness ever be “solved”? What would that look like? What is the nature of my perceptions of the homeless, as well as those of people like the police officers who were eventually called to make the man I attempted to help leave? Rather than momentarily rectifying a social discontinuity, I contributed to exasperating one. There has to be a better way. I’m not sure I’ll find it, but it seems a worthwhile pursuit to try to understand what it might be, starting with the many others that are trying.