Homelessness is a rampant problem in the US, with over half a million people facing homelessness daily. We want to empower these people to be able to have access to relevant information. Our goal is to pioneer technology that prioritizes the needs of displaced persons and tailor software to uniquely address the specific challenges of homelessness.
What it does
Most homeless people have basic cell phones with only calling and sms capabilities. Using kiva, they can use their cell phones to leverage technologies previously accessible with the internet. Users are able to text the number attached to kiva and interact with our intelligent chatbot to learn about nearby shelters and obtain directions to head to a shelter of their choice.
How we built it
We used freely available APIs such as Twilio and Google Cloud in order to create the beta version of kiva. We search for nearby shelters using the Google Maps API and communicate formatted results to the user’s cell phone Twilio’s SMS API.
Challenges we ran into
The biggest challenge was figuring out how to best utilize technology to help those with limited resources. It would be unreasonable to expect our target demographic to own smartphones and be able to download apps off the app market like many other customers would. Rather, we focused on providing a service that would maximize accessibility. Consequently, kiva is an SMS chat bot, as this allows the most users to access our product at the lowest cost.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We succeeded in creating a minimum viable product that produced results! Our current model allows for homeless people to find a list of nearest shelters and obtain walking directions. We built the infrastructure of kiva to be flexible enough to include additional capabilities (i.e. weather and emergency alerts), thus providing a service that can be easily leveraged and expanded in the future.
What we learned
We learned that intimately understanding the particular needs of your target demographic is important when hacking for social good. Often, it’s easier to create a product and find people who it might apply to, but this is less realistic in philanthropic endeavors. Most applications these days tend to be web focused, but our product is better targeted to people facing homeslessness by using SMS capabilities.
What's next for kiva
Currently, kiva provides information on homeless shelters. We hope to be able to refine kiva to let users further customize their requests. In the future kiva should be able to provide information about other basic needs such as food and clothing. Additionally, we would love to see kiva as a crowdsourced information platform where people could mark certain places as shelter to improve our database and build a culture of alleviating homelessness.