The Beth-el Center:
Reducing Childhood Trauma in Homeless Shelters
Members of our Beth-El Center team worked with a local homeless shelter in Milford, CT to help reduce childhood trauma.
Over the course of the project, our team realized that we could not simply make the environment as appealing as possible to children because they might then create excessive positive associations with homeless shelters. Instead, we needed to focus on creating a comforting and nurturing environment for children. After prototyping an idea for a portable bathroom light and a coloring book, we delivered a coloring book to the Beth-El Center designed to acclimate children to the shelter more quickly.
The primary community partner for this project was the Beth-El Center homeless shelter in Milford, CT. Our project resulted in a potential design for a portable bathroom light their children could use during the night and a ready-to-use coloring book to help become acquainted with the shelter.
We were also incredibly fortunate to also get to work with Dr. Megan Goslin, a clinical psychologist at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center. Dr. Goslin provided us with invaluable information about the trauma children in homeless shelters endure, identifying what types of experiences to promote or minimize. Our project would not have been able to succeed without her guidance and advice.
Once we had figured out what area we wanted to focus on, our team attempted to create two different ways to improve the comfort level of the shelter.
The Introduction Process
One method focused on helping children become used to the shelter more quickly. New environments can certainly be scary for children especially when they are filled with strangers. We wanted to help children understand the physical space of the shelter, the people who lived and worked in it, and any important rules or reminders.
Bed Wetting Due to Lack of Comfort
The second method was targeted at addressing the specific bed wetting issue that many children in the shelter exhibited. After talking with Dr. Gosling and staff, we deduced that the issue was caused by children not wanting to go to the bathroom tonight. We wanted to find a way to make children more comfortable with getting up to go to the bathroom at night, despite the environment and shared bathroom situation.
Researching the Center
We discussed various options to help make students understand their environment more like creating a “Who’s Who” board and eventually settled on the idea of creating of a coloring book about the Beth-El Center. Each page would describe a different part of the shelter, introduce a person in the shelter, or help explain a rule or provide a reminder. Once we nailed down what we wanted from this coloring book, we got started creating a proof of concept prototype.
We started by sketching the book by hand, and then used Adobe Illustrator to transform real pictures of the Beth-el Center into line drawings that could be colored in.
Prototyping our Solutions
We incorporated games and hand drawn sketches into our coloring book. In addition to introducing the kids to the staff this coloring book could be an activity that could distract the kids during their intro session (where they normally are expected to stay quiet in the front room while their parent fills out paper work).
Bathroom Night Lights
After closely examining the situation with the bathroom, it was apparent that we wanted to correct the lighting situation. The commercial style lighting was very bright especially for anyone who had just woken up. We chose to prototype various types of handheld lights children could take to the bathroom which would provide a soft glow and a comforting shape and feel.
We learned to create circuits with rechargeable batteries, and devised a circuit where the leaf would be turned off while charging on its stand and turn on when removed from the charger.
We were also able to demonstrate a working prototype for our portable bathroom light design. The design featured the comforting design and soft light we were looking for, while also providing a rechargeable magnetic dock setup to ensure it was easy to use and maintain.
[A picture of the working stand if you have it- I couldn’t find it on the drive and didn’t happen to have one.]
Working with the Beth-El Center was a wonderful privilege, and we are so happy we were able to help them pursue their incredible mission of helping homeless families get back on their feet!
We used a Thermo-former and Thermoplastics in order to shape the leaf off of a foam mold we carved.