This post is the second in a series highlighting House of Friendship’s work on ShelterCare. Over 70% who seek emergency shelter in Waterloo region are navigating addiction, mental, and/or physical health challenges. Through the ShelterCare Solutions Lab, we will work together on designing solutions to better meet these needs through responsive and relationship-based healthcare and housing supports in emergency shelter. The previous post on Understanding the Problem can be found here.

As we moved into the next phases of work, our attention turned toward generating new ideas and putting them into action. First, we used the ideas to identify themes that were common across them to develop a set of design principles. Next, we will look for opportunities to prototype the more promising ideas in small ways.

What are Design Principles?

Design principles are statements that set out our intention and direction for the ideation, prototyping, and testing processes. As a set, they provide a lens through which we think about and review new solutions. They can be used in many ways:

  • To discuss and reflect with staff on an on-going basis and bring feedback to the Solutions Lab or management team
  • As a springboard for innovation, reviewing proposed decisions in the context of a shared set of principles
  • As a framework for prioritization with stakeholders
  • To inform which success metrics to track and to evaluate a design
  • To incorporate into a feedback survey for participants during and at the end of their stay to ensure existing experiences live up to this standard
  • To include them in regular communications to reinforce messages about hope and optimism

Drafting Design Principles for ShelterCare

The specific bullets under each principle are examples of how that specific principle might play out and are not suggestions or recommendations for how to implement ShelterCare. Ideas are going through a separate prioritization process to identify which ones will make the most promising prototypes.

Design Principle #1: Ensure staff is trained and confident to offer person-centred participant support and to maintain confidentiality.


  • Focused training program on how to respond to the unique needs of participants for all staff with both in-person and virtual options
  • When possible, promote and support independence for shelter participants such as self-service beverage and food options
  • Hire a consultant to conduct privacy assessment and training for staff across shelter providers

Design Principle #2: Promote collaboration and teamwork amongst staff that fosters innovative solutions.


  • Engage a broad cross-section of staff to address complex issues 
  • Working group to tackle solutions to medication management 

Design Principle #3: Expand harm reduction options to meet the range of participant needs.


  • Become a Needle Syringe Program partner
  • Move to a “damp” model where active substance use is acknowledged on site
  • Ensure Harm Reduction workers are site every evening
  • Engage Public Health representative to support further work on Harm Reduction and Safe Use

Design Principle #4: Enhance participant data tracking systems to ensure decisions are evidence-informed.


  • Use live data and co-create dashboards for tracking participant data, including connectedness to eligible waitlists and other outcomes
  • Find ways to communicate team-based support work

Design Principle #5: Create private spaces to  meet medical, support, and personal needs of participants.


  • Virtual communication room/space/booths
  • Private consult rooms for support /health staff
  • Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) function set up onsite

Design Principle #6: Strengthen and build relationships with landlords.


  • Develop a shelter-specific landlord engagement strategy, including marketing materials
  • Host a landlord forum and provide educational opportunities for potential landlords

How Design Principles Will Help

We developed this set of draft design principles as a tool to support the future direction of the integration of shelter and healthcare services. As we move forward, we will continue to use them as a lens for our work, and revise and expand upon through the process.

The design principles are about doing. Each principle is stated with a verb and is meant to guide our decision making and the development of new solutions. This includes inspiring new ideas and testing ideas early and often—however, design principles are not ideas in and of themselves.

The design principles are not set in stone or all-encompassing. Design principles remain open to change. As the principles are applied, there will be new learning that leads to improvements and additions to them.

The design principles are owned by the collective of the ShelterCare Solutions Lab project team and contributor. All those connected to the ShelterCare Solutions Lab have a role to play in providing feedback creating new iterations of the principles, ensuring they remain relevant and authentic.

Get Involved

Do you have feedback on this set of draft design principles?
Can you see something that is missing or needs to be updated?
Check out the ShelterCare website for more information and how to connect with Sarah Brown and the  Solutions Lab team.

As a Solutions Lab Provider, Overlap Associates partners with organizations to work through complex housing issues and scale potential solutions. A Solutions Lab is a collaborate initiative to solve complex housing problems using innovative methods and tools. For the organizations participating, a Lab is an opportunity to develop innovative solutions to a complex housing problem, as well as build capabilities for design, collaboration and problem-solving. Learn more about our Housing Solutions Labs here.