"No Fixed Address System": a Design Concept Providing an Address to the Homeless and Modern Nomads

"No Fixed Address System": a Design Concept Providing an Address to the Homeless and Modern Nomads

“No Fixed Address System” is this year’s Student Winner in the Service Design category of the 2018 Core77 Design Awards.

While different factors, including the housing crisis and advances in technology, has led to a dramatic rise of nomads in recent years—both by choice and by force—the way people work live love and relate to places and each other are being changed. Modern Nomads leverage technology in order to live an independent and nomadic lifestyle without being trapped in a fixed address. But they are facing unnecessary problems. From voting to ordering pizza,the society is not yet able to cater to the increasing needs of this growing group of people. Modern nomads are excluded from the society.

The NFA (No Fixed Address) system proposes a new system with a static postcode tied to a dynamic, impermanent address, allowing modern nomads to participate in a functional society that respects alternative ways of living.

Modern nomads can register as an NFA user, being assigned an NFA postcode and receive an NFA device. Once the user finds a place to settle down, they place the NFA device in a visible location then use a fingerprint to activate the GPS. The location will be linked to the NFA postcode. Services requiring an address can reach the user’s current location via NFA postcode. The NFA system also creates an address history of the users to establish credits as proofs of their existence in the society allowing users to access services such as mortgage, visa, etc.

Modern nomads are not hiding, modern nomads are not trying to break any laws, modern nomads simply live a different way of life. Why do modern nomads have to tolerate pressing issues brought by the obsolete mindset of having a fixed address?

NFA system seeks to normalize and formalize the nomadic way of living through the proliferation of the No Fixed Address system. By becoming part of the norm, modern nomads will be able to become more intermeshed into our static, rigid society. Diversity should be respected in our great democracy.

Starting from the keyword “parasitism”, I looked into the evolution from parasitism to mutualism. Through the evolution, the parasite and the host start to cooperate and live on each other. I created a hypothesis: if it’s a relationship of mutualism, the host can be the parasite, the parasite can be the host. This hypothesis will be applied to a context to push the project forward.

“They (beggars) are a race apart–outcasts, like criminals and prostitutes. Working men ‘work’, beggars do not ‘work’; they are parasites, worthless in their very nature.”
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

George Orwell describes an opinion which is held by a certain amount of people in their mind. This point of view is incorrect but it reveals the existence of the stereotype of beggars and even homeless people. Homelessness has existed in the world for a long history and seems difficult to end. I assume there is a relationship of mutualism between homeless people and society, therefore the issue of homelessness never comes to an end. Then with the hypothesis, homeless people are hosts too. What’s their value to society?

To better understand the lifestyle of the homeless, I spend a night outside Victoria station with two “cardboardmates” – Phil and Lee – who asked me for spare changes earlier that night. My approach was different from a typical interview. I observed things happening around quietly. They were very comfortable with it:“We are very happy, no one has ever done this before. You just sit down and stay with us, not many questions. We are happy.”

Before the stay, I had my own prediction about the problem I might face on the street, but it turned out that the reality was different from my imagination.

I documented my experience during my stay on the street. The insight is that homeless people in central London have access to different assistances provided by charities and councils including foods, clothes, shelters and job training etc. The short-term assistance they can get are more than they need. Meanwhile, there is a lack of a long-term solution. People provide short-term help because of empathy and willingness to help, but sometimes it doesn’t help.

“The beggar’s existence allows even the poor to make donations……he/she functions as an agent of virtuous social bonding.” 

—Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Future of Futurity by Robert Mitchell

To efficiently help homeless people is to give them a sense of human dignity rather than taking pity on them. Housing first is a practical principle to address the homelessness issue. Recent research also shows that the key solution to homelessness is housing, the principle is called “housing first”. Whatever problem a homeless individual has once having a house the individual will start to be responsive to the house and him/herself then the situation will get better. Even more, it costs only one-third housing a homeless people than keeping than on the street since it takes more money to maintain shelters, health-care services and so on. Making use of vacant buildings sounds simple, Jeremy Corbyn and Margaret Thatcher had talked about homelessness and making using of empty properties in 1990. But the number of people sleeping rough on the streets is still increasing every year while many properties are left empty. The housing crisis is complicated because of the complexity of economics, politics and human nature. The housing problem seems unfixable.

Apart from not having a roof on top of their head, is there any consequence caused by not having a house? Yes, and many homeless people are complaining about this. It’s an address: a main obstacle of homeless people in finding jobs, claiming benefits and so on is the lack of a residential address.

Are homeless people the only victims of not having a fixed address? No, they are not. Because of the technology development and the remain high housing price, A growing cross-generation tribe of educated, influential and affluent professionals are striving to lead a nomadic life. For them, concepts like borders, time-zones and office-spaces can be ignored in lieu of a connected ecosystem of tools and services that help them to live, work and play in a way that may seem extreme to many of us today, but will become the norm for a much larger group of professionals in the next few years. Will this change the value of the society? What is society’s attitude toward people who have no permeant place to live? Will the attitude remain the same in the future with a more serious housing crisis?

People without a fixed address are losing their voice. The design brief is to design a system to help no fixed abode better intermesh into society.

Modern nomads can register as an NFA user, being assigned an NFA postcode and receive an NFA device. Once the user find a place to settle down, place NFA device in a visible location then use fingerprint to activate the GPS. The location will be linked to the NFA postcode. Services requiring address can reach the user’s current location via NFA postcode. NFA system also creates address history of the users to establish credits as proofs of their existence in the society allowing users to access services such as mortgage, visa, etc.

From conversions with potential users, investors and the public, NFA chooses people who live on canal boats as target users to ground the proposal. There are over 10,000 people live on canal boats in London, over 32,000 boats in the UK. Canal & River Trust is the organisation responsive to license, management, etc. It would be easier to realise the proposal with C&RT rather than with the government.

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Canal & River Trust is an ideal partner to collaborate with, they are well-managed and managing rivers and canals. There are many other associations related to people live afloat. During my research, I discovered that not everyone agrees with C&RT’s management. People question the legal effect of rules set by C&RT, especially on the rule “boats have to move 25miles every 2 weeks”. Before I clearly understand boaters’ opinion, the project is paused.

Visit the Core77 Design Awards website to view the 2018 Service Design honorees