Written by Catherine Hinrichsen for the Project on Family Homelessness Blog

We built a community empowered by technology & design thinking to solve the problem of homelessness together.

– Candace Faber, Hackathon Project Manager

At Seattle’s first-ever Hack to End Homelessness, May 3-4 at the Impact Hub, more than 60 technologists, graphic designers and storytellers worked side by side with nonprofit service providers and advocacy organizations.  The purpose of the weekend was to build technology tools that the nonprofits can use for service and advocacy.

 Hackathon participants working Maine 20140504_Hack2End-45

During the Hackathon, teams worked together for 36+ hours building projects. Photo by Michael B. Maine.

Our project served as the community liaison, connecting the Hackathon organizers to the dozen community partners.

There were 12 teams of 3-7 people each, plus three additional people who floated. One team worked through the night to create an intake interface forYouthCare that will help them place homeless youth in shelters. Another generated incredible insights on our city’s homeless population and their reasons for remaining unsheltered, based on data collected earlier in the week at United Way’s Community Resource Exchange at CenturyLink Field.

Hackathon feedback session photo by Michael B. Maine

At the finale, the team working with Building Changes presents its work. Photo by Michael B. Maine

Some of the other highlights were:

  • A huge collection of maps, both static (but easily updated) and dynamic. One highlight was a map project led by the Committee to End Homelessness in King County that visualizes homelessness for 25 major metro areas in the United States. Find it for now at: http://haystack-hack2end.herokuapp.com.
  • The beta version – complete with Twitter sign-in and first user – of a social network for homeless people, We Are Visible. This vision was brought by Mark Horvath of InvisiblePeople.tv, our special guest for the weekend. It’s at wav.dotcreate.co.
  • And the one that got the most attention, an app for on-site data collection byUnion Gospel Mission search & rescue van volunteers. This equips relatively untrained volunteers to collect time-stamped, GPS-marked data about people sleeping on the streets and automate communication with the program’s full-time staff, so that outreach staff and volunteers can quickly respond to the individual needs of the people they meet.

Every project was completed and then some. There were some lower-tech solutions as well, such as a new e-commerce site for Sanctuary Art Center, a new call to action-centered Web site for No Child Sleeps Outside, and a design thinking-inspired messaging strategy for Building Changes that they are excited to debut.

There were several other extraordinary achievements, including lots of data clean-up and education for our non-profits on how to improve their data gathering. By bringing best practices from tech to non-profits, we can reduce noise in the data and make it easier to analyze trends.

You can see more about the weekend, including in-depth descriptions of the projects and some of the media coverage highlights, at the project Web site.  See highlights from the Hackathon weekend and the finale in our Storify social media recaps.

The weekend kicked off with two community engagement events:

Hackathon @home Panel Maine 20140502_Hack2End-8

@home post-film panel: Mark Putnam of CEHKC; Mark Horvath; Susanne Suffredin. Photo by Michael B. Maine.

Congratulations and thank you to all the teams — including our partner organizations, who spent several months working with the organizers to develop their project proposals and get the data into shape.

And, our extreme gratitude to the organizers of the event, who worked tirelessly for months on a volunteer basis to pull off this event: Project manager Candace Faber and Hackathon organizer Ethan Phelps-Goodman, as well as Peter Kittas, Aparna Rae and Sol Villareal.