When we began GlobalHack 2016, my team and I knew very little about homelessness. One of the facts we were surprised to learn was that many homeless people are very resistant to the idea of using the services of a homeless shelter. One of the few times that they will take advantage of the services are during extreme weather conditions or in other kinds of emergencies, but often times they don't have a way to get transportation to the shelter during these times. So we set out to fix this problem.
What it does
The system that we created connects volunteers from the shelter and homeless people in need of help. We created an android app, intended to be used by people in need of help, and a web interface for the shelters' volunteers. The app features a button that sends a request for assistance to a webpage visible to each volunteer. The webpage will show the distance of each request from the volunteer's current location, along with any other details that the homeless person may have entered. A volunteer may "claim" the request, and travel to the person. The app will continually update the homeless person on the progress made by the volunteer, as well as with an estimated time of arrival.
How we built it
The system is divided into 3 distinct subsystems: the app, the webpage, and the backend. The app and webpage are created in Android Studio and standard HTML/CSS/JS respectively, and the backend was written in NodeJS. It runs on top of a PostgreSQL database and makes the occasional google maps API request to calculate driving time.
Challenges we ran into
Our biggest challenge was, by far, brainstorming how to tackle the challenge. Unlike some previous competitions my teammates and I have entered, this one attempts to solve a real-world problem that many, many people have attacked with various degrees of success. Many of the obvious approaches had already been attempted, forcing us to come up with a somewhat unique solution.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
There are two distinct accomplishments we feel we've achieved. The first, as previously mentioned, is coming up with a focused solution for a major problem, which is connecting homeless people with shelters during emergencies. Secondly, we have created a very powerful platform for additional development in the future. Right now, the system solves the problem at hand very well, but we can think of many ways to build more features, such as volunteer/homeless messaging, volunteer responder pictures, notifications, and a more powerful filtering system. The solution we've created has turned out to be a very strong foundation for adding features such as these in the future.
What we learned
I learned the importance of distinguishing between latitude and longitude, but more importantly, my team and I have learned the importance of clear communication and the honest exchange of opinions. Had we settled on an idea early on that only a few of us were comfortable with, I don't think our project would have emerged at the same level of competition that it did. Each of us increased our knowledge of facts about homelessness as well, and I think each of us will be more perceptive of it in the future.
What's next for #include
We feel that the platform we've begun has a significant amount of promise for future development, and each of us are excited about continuing working together on this project. If the judges conclude that our solution has potential for ending homelessness, we will definitely continue collaborating and working with the relevant organizations to accomplish that goal.
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