September 22

Working Draft of Pitch Presentation

At Our House’s Emergency Shelter, women with infants six months and under, as well as their siblings can stay for up to six months while they work to kick-start their success and break the cycle of homelessness. Currently, the emergency shelter, which was recently acquired through the merger with Genesis shelter in 2014, houses eighteen families. According to fire code regulations, the Our House emergency shelter is at 94% occupancy, so the facility is quite crowded.

High-occupancy living can be extremely difficult for anyone, not just families in shelters. Apartment complexes, dorm rooms, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and boarding schools all experience certain issues related to the close proximity of residents. One major issue that affects all high-occupancy and multifamily facilities is illness. According to the World Health Organization, overcrowding and high-occupancy spaces are major factors in the transmission of highly contagious infectious diseases and illnesses. Acute respiratory infections, the flu, bronchitis, head lice, and pink eye can all be spread much easier and faster within crowded facilities such as shelters. Currently, all of the families at the emergency shelter must share the same restroom. No matter how clean the facilities are, a restroom that serves eighteen families of four to five people is a breeding ground for germs and infection to spread. Even if Our House were to provide the healthcare services that families needed during an infectious outbreak, it would be nearly impossible to curtail disease transmission, making the health risks of the high occupancy space, and particularly the single restroom, extremely serious.

Another concern of high occupancy living is emergency procedure and evacuation. With so many people living in one space, evacuation during a fire could be extremely hectic and scary, particularly for families who have experienced trauma, like many of the families at Our House. Therefore, having a set emergency and evacuation plan and compatible floorplan is crucial for the renovated shelter. For planning purposes, I have considered the Our House shelter to legally be classified as an “apartment house two or more stories high.” According to the Georgia Health and Safety Code Section 13220, apartment houses two or more stories high must have emergency exits within interior hallways and lobbies that provided the quickest escape route possible to outside. Tenants are also required to be aware of specific emergency procedures for the building. The emergency procedure should include the location, function, and use of fire alarms, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers as described in Georgia Fire Code section 404.2. Fire Code Section 1926 also states that Fire Extinguishers should be available for every 3,000 square feet of the building, and the walking distance from any point within the facility to a fire extinguisher should not exceed 100 feet. Also, at least one fire extinguisher should be located adjacent to the emergency stairwell. Information regarding exiting the facility and including a floorplan map must be located at all elevators and stairwells and on each hallway.

The Georgia Construction Code also contains specific non-emergency requirements that would apply to the renovated Our House Shelter. One important requirement is Code Section 404.4, which states that bedrooms must contain at least 50 square feet of living space of floor area for each occupant. According to Section 403.1, every bedroom shall contain an openable window. In terms of bathrooms, when not equipped with a window, all bathrooms must be equipped with a mechanical ventilation system that shall discharge to the outdoors and not be circulated, as noted in Code section 403.2. Compliance with emergency and fire codes, as well as the construction code will ensure that the renovated emergency shelter at Our House will provide a safer environment for the residents, and will allow residents to be sufficiently prepared, should the facility experience a fire or other emergency.


September 15

An Afternoon at Our House

Sitting in my Gender Studies class tonight, I had the hardest time focusing on the material. I could not stop covertly wiping my tears, and the icky feeling in the pit of my stomach would not go away. I could not stop thinking about the fact that I will go home to my own apartment tonight and use my own bathroom, while so many mothers at Our House will have to care for their babies in a communal restroom and go to sleep wondering if they will be back on the street after their six month stay at Our House.

As Sabine Augustin, the Program Services Coordinator of Our House noted during our tour yesterday, the women who come to their facility for help walk in feeling like “absolute failures.” Of course, these women are not failures at all. Instead, the intersections of our oppressive economic, racial, and patriarchal social structures have left these women, and millions like them, severely disadvantaged, scared, and alone. Sabine noted that many of the women and children of Our House suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so the staff must be particularly considerate of the psychological and social needs of residents.

However, the Our House staff does more than just accommodate for the special circumstances of the families. Our House provides women and children with opportunities to break the cycle of homelessness. On weekdays, the children of Our House are provided with a NAEYC-accredited early childhood education program, and free nutritious meals. Knowing that their children are cared for in a safe environment, the mothers are then free to work or search for jobs while their children are at the daycare. Individual case managers help each mother find employment and education opportunities, while connecting them to other vital services, such as clinics and psychological care. Our House also provides families with counseling services, educational workshops, job training, and even the opportunity for mothers to receive a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate which would enable them to work in the field of early childhood education.

During our tour of the facility, Sabine brought us upstairs to the emergency shelter, where we got to see the inside of the shelter bedroom as well as the community bathroom. About a year ago, I reconnected with an old friend who had become homeless after aging out of his group home and falling victim to drug addiction. Because I had heard his stories of life on the streets, I naïvely thought that I would be prepared for what I saw at the Our House emergency shelter. Instead of numbers, each room is marked with an inspiring name. When Sabine opened the door to the room entitled “Courage,” my stomach dropped. The room, which was probably around 200 square feet, housed a family of four. Next to the sink, I saw bottles of pedialyte, formula, and childrens’ Tylenol. My eyes started to water as I began thinking about how difficult having a newborn must be, especially when you do not know where you will get your next meal, or what you may have to do for it. I also thought about the warmth and kindness that traumatized, disadvantaged, and worn down new mothers experience at Our House, which leads to our service learning project.

Because of the shelter’s tight quarters, it will undergo renovations next year to ensure that every bedroom has both a window and a bathroom. Our primary responsibility for the service learning project is to research best practices for environmental safety in shelters for women and children. When looking solely at the population size of the shelter, designing a floor plan seems rather simple. Each family could have a dorm-like space and we could call it a day. However, because of the individual needs of all of the residences, including their experiences with PTSD, careful consideration is necessary. Living in a confined space with many small children would prove to be extremely stressful for anyone, and it is certainly not an issue that only pertains to homeless mothers. That being said, the upstairs shelter facility must be utilized in a way that takes advantage of all of the square footage available. It will take extensive research of high occupancy spaces such as hospitals, rehab centers, shelters, and even boarding schools to determine the best bedroom layout for accommodating small children, while maintain privacy for mothers.

One environmental safety concern that Sabine mentioned would be safety from other residences. Conflict is an inevitable problem in any high occupancy situation, and is in no way limited to shelters. This concern reminded me of policies utilized at a residential treatment center where I volunteer that serves children with severe emotional and psychological problems. At the home, each child has their own room in which the head of the bed faces the door. This sounds simple, but has proven to be extremely effective for individuals with violence-related PTSD. When a bed faces a door, an individual is less likely to become triggered during the night, and there is less fear of intrusion and assault. Another seemingly simple policy at the treatment center is that each bedroom is equipped with a ceiling fan. Living in a bedroom equipped with a ceiling fan would give mothers a sense of autonomy, as they would be able to control room temperature, which would also alleviate some of the stress of feeling crammed in a small space. The simple act of controlling a room’s temperature would make a shelter bedroom feel more like an apartment, than a facility where everything is controlled for you.

I am especially excited about our service learning project because we are not only gaining experience from an outside organization, but from a non-profit organization that has such an incredibly inspiring impact on Atlanta’s homeless communities. Our House is a beautiful organization that provides families with the tools to overcome hardship and break the cycle of homelessness. In the Unit 1 article “Wicked Problems in Technical Communication,” the author noted the importance of incorporating and encouraging civic engagement through service learning projects, and I believe that our class projects are doing just that. Although our technical writing class includes students from a variety of disciplines, we can all work towards being better stewards of our community. Even if we don’t have the funds to make a hefty cash donation to charity, we can all pitch in as volunteers or by donating baby wipes and other small items to Our House and the other nonprofits. I hope that through the service learning project, every student in our class realizes just how blessed we are and the importance of giving back, even if it is just giving our time.

September 11

Rhetorical Analysis of the Our House Website

Who They Are:

Our House provides free childcare and other services for Atlanta’s homeless children and their families. Our House’s early childhood program serves children from 6 weeks to five years old with a NAEYC-accredited curriculum, immunizations, health check-ups, and special education services. They also have many “family advocacy” programs, such as individual case management, counseling services, referrals, educational workshops, job training, and employment opportunities. Our House also allows families to stay in their emergency shelter for up to six months at a time, where they receive free childcare, meals, laundry services, as well as the other programs listed above.


The Our House website comes from the viewpoint of the Our House team, but the inclusion of the “Our Stories” section on the website was a very wise rhetorical choice. Within this section, authorship changes to mothers who benefitted from Our House’s services. For example, one story is a touching excerpt of a poem written by an Our House mother that she read at her graduation from Our House. Although I had read about the amazing services provide throughout the website, but it was through reading the poem that I realized the scope of the impact that Our House has on Atlanta’s homeless families. In this section, excellent credibility is established because the authors actually received assistance from Our House. As for the rest of the website, credibility is established through the inclusion of staff biographies, a board of directors list, and an advisory board page. While credibility is community respect is established through these pages, “Our Stories” and descriptions of the programs allows the authors of the website to come off as genuine and approachable.


The purpose of the website is to showcase the programs of Our House and the major impact that it makes on the homeless community of Atlanta and Decatur. As I noted above, the website goes in to detail describing the various programs and services available to homeless families. However, the authors of the website made a great rhetorical choice by including an “Accomplishments” section. Before opening the tab, I assumed this section of the website would display awards received or money raised. Instead, accomplishments listed include expanding the Atlanta location to include two more early childhood classrooms, to be equipped to serve 151 students, and the addition of the emergency shelter after merging with Genesis shelter. Showcasing these accomplishments helps serve the purpose of the website by displaying growth and change within the charity, which leads to the secondary intention of the website, attracting donors. When a non-profit is shown to produce change, and provide services that help break cycles of homelessness and poverty, it is more likely to attract donors. On the website, there is a tab for people to donate online. This allows people to donate as much or as little as they like, making it more approachable to those who don’t think their contributions would amount to much. On the other hand, there is a tab that describes donating stocks and securities as well as planned giving. This allows donors to make large legacy gifts to Our House that would endow a fund for generations to come.


As I described in the previous section, one audience of the website is potential donors. Donors do not want to donate to a charity that does not produce results, so by displaying the outcomes of programs, as well as accomplishments, donors are more likely to see their contribution as a beneficial investment in the community. Because the website allows online donations and planned giving options, donors do not fit one specific profile. Some may be wealthy families, while others may be working people who want to give back what they can. Another audience of the website is potential volunteers. As a nonprofit organization, Our House must provide all of their services on a budget. That being said, it can be difficult to hire many employees, so many operations must be carried out with the help of volunteers. Sometimes, volunteers may opt out of helping an organization because the duties look too difficult, but the programs described on the Our House website appear to need all types of help, not just certified teachers and nurses. For example, the early childhood program may just need some extra hands in the classroom, or the emergency shelter may need help serving meals. A third audience, who is perhaps the most important, is potential Our House families. Many people forget that homeless people can access the internet, but Atlanta libraries serve hundreds of homeless adults everyday who need the computer access to find employment, shelter, and other services. Also, many people who are not currently homeless may know if they will become homeless in the next couple of days. By finding the Our House website, potential families can find a glimmer of hope.


Determining the genre of the Our House website is difficult. The website is informative and multimodal. Although I am not exactly sure which genre the website is, I know that it utilizes the linguistic, visual, and spatial modes. One linguistic decision on the Our House website include the choice of simple, concise, approachable texts instead of lengthy descriptions of Our House programs. In terms of the visual mode, the website uses red and blue to create a simple, cute layout. The layout and style of the website are not overwhelming, so the text and content of the website is the focus. Photos on the Our House website display the children and family served, so none of the photos seem out of place or like stock photos. The website’s spatial decisions include the arrangement and organization of the content. Instead of including large chunks of content on each page, the website utilizes many drop-down menus and pages so that each page only includes a small section of necessary content. In doing so, the website is easier to navigate, and visitors don’t have to scroll through much to find what they need.


The Our House team chose to create a website because websites are within the reach of all different kinds of people: potential donors, volunteers, and families. It is also probable that they chose to use a website, rather than a newsletter, because a website can be altered and updated. With a growing nonprofit like Our House, this feature is necessary for reflecting the constant growth and change in the organization. The website, and the charity itself, were created in the context of Atlanta’s growing population of homeless families. With over 800 homeless children under the age of six living in Atlanta, Our House is an extremely necessary organization. In order to connect those in need to the organization, the website is extremely necessary. While some potential families may find the website directly, others may not have the privilege of doing so. In that case, the website is still necessary because once someone sees it, it can still reach potential families via word of mouth.

Other Design Choices:


Throughout the Our House website, there is a major emphasis on the ways the programs work to “break the cycle,” of homelessness. There is an old saying that it is better to teach a man (or woman) to fish, than it is to give him (or her) a fish. Our House seems to work with a similar mindset. Of course, giving families in need a safe place to sleep is vital, but Our House takes it a step further by providing programs that help prepare parents for life outside of Our House. For example, Our House teaches parents valuable skills for employment and assists parents in searching for jobs.


On the homepage of the website, stylistic contrast helps certain elements stand out from one another. On the left side of the page, frequently asked questions such as “Why support Our House?” are answered on a white background. On the right side of the page, a dark grey box displays Our House’s “Latest News.” In that section, a recent grant from the Atlanta Women’s Foundation and the recent merger with Genesis Shelter are described. By utilizing contrasting colors, the page can display static information about Our House alongside new, changing information.


As I previously mentioned, the organizational choice of breaking the website down into many short pieces of text was a smart decision. It allows the website to include a large body of information, while maintaining emphasis on all of the information. If the website was formatted as only a few pages containing more information, some information could be skimmed over and “lost,” while the organization of the Our House website keeps all of the content easy to find.


On many of the pages, such as the homepage, contrasting colors draw attention to different sections of text. In doing this, one paragraph, or body of text, is aligned left, while the other is aligned right. On other pages that don’t utilize contrasting colors, text is aligned across the page, but ———— lines are used to separate information. Like the overall organization of the website, the alignment of the text breaks down and simplifies the informative text.


At the top of the Our House website, different dropdown menus help users navigate the website. On the left, the menus pertain to the organization itself, the staff, and the ways that the programs have helped families in our community. On the far right, the menus are all related to donors and volunteers. Putting these dropdown menus next to each other allows someone options for helping Our House. Here, people can decide whether or not they want to devote their time or finances to helping Our House provide a safe space for homeless children and families.