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Tracking capacity at homeless shelters, in hopes that more homeless clients will always have a place to stay.

April 2016, Updated Sketches

Our goal

Homelessness has recently been deemed to be in a state of emergency in the city of Seattle.  The homeless population is steadily increasing, making it more challenging to care for this population.  While Seattle has a numerous shelters across the city, at the moment the shelter system is not centralized.  Collaboration and cross-communication is minimal across shelters, even though they all are built around the same principle of serving the homeless.

Our team recognized a need to get these shelters communicating on a more regular basis, working together to help manage increasing demand.

The concept

After talking to many shelter owners, volunteers, and homeless individuals, we recognized that capacity is an issue at all Seattle shelters.  The shelters that are convenient to get to and have a nice culture tend to fill up every night.  This puts the shelter owners in a challenging position when have to turn someone away.  At this point they try to recommend another shelter that might have space, but they cannot guarantee a shelter will have space once the client gets there. 

Currently, capacity data across shelters is not available to the shelter owners.  Instead, they must either take an educated guess, or make a phone call to the shelter in order to check if there is any availability.  We recognized that this method was not extremely efficient nor entirely accurate.  It is painful for shelter owners to provide less-than-accurate data, especially when their faulty recommendation leaves a client on the streets for the night. 

Instead of hunting-and-pecking for shelter availability, why not provide a way for shelter owners to track their capacity while simultaneously seeing a live-feed of their neighboring shelter's capacities. This way, an owner will never have to turn a client away, but rather can provide a dependable recommendation of a nearby shelter that will have a space.  

In addition to empowering the shelter owners, we realized that this information could be helpful to other facilitators that often have to send a homeless client to a shelter (i.e. hospitals, local police, public library, etc).  

The process

Our team of 4 is currently volunteering at shelter's weekly in order to talk with more shelter owners and get a better understand of their pain points.  In addition, we are working to get in touch with other leaders within the shelter community.  Ultimately we want to be able to use this data to bridge the gap between the Seattle shelters and better serve the homeless community.