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Tech Community Develops App To Help Homeless Youth

Lane County techies hack for a cause. Photo courtesy Joshua Purvis.
Lane County techies hack for a cause. Photo courtesy Joshua Purvis.

According to a 2015 article in Business Insider, the median sale price for a home in Silicon Valley is $1.05 million, and you’d have to make $212,800 a year just to afford the mortgage. Nationwide, technology has been a double-sided coin for communities, but here in the “Silicon Shire” we haven’t yet seen those kinds of astronomical leaps in the cost of living. 

With city livability a rising issue, three months ago the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) invited the local tech community to produce technology-based ideas that tackle livability issues in an event called Hack for a Cause. 

The “hackathon” included seven challenges, and one of those challenges aimed to assist the 15th Night Initiative and its mission to support local homeless youth. 

According to 15th Night, Eugene had 303 homeless youth last year, and the initiative aims to work collaboratively with the community to end youth homelessness.

Prior to the February hackathon, Joshua Purvis, the events coordinator for TAO, spoke with 15th Night staff members, including coordinator Megan Shultz, to identify how “the 15th Night initiative could be effectively tech-enabled through Hack for a Cause,” Purvis says.

Shultz explains that without this app — which is scheduled to launch by September of this year — school officers must go through a list of contacts to connect homeless students with housing, food and clothing, and  “a lot times at the end of the day at 4 o’clock when school ends, nothing has happened, and everybody has to decide what’s going to happen.”   

Similar to Facebook messaging, the app would allow local homeless advocates, 4J and Bethel counselors, school homeless liaisons and the Eugene Police Department to communicate via cell phones and laptops on a secure provider network that links all the resources together, says Mark Davis, who helped organize Hack for a Cause.

Since the hackathon, a group of University of Oregon and Lane Community College interns, as well as local tech professionals, have concerted their efforts to further develop the unnamed messaging app, according to Davis.

Other hackathon challenges that have been implemented include a promotional video highlighting the local tech community, a website for CoderDojo — a free program that teaches Lane County kids coding skills — and a mobile reporting app for the Downtown Guides (also known as the Red Hats).

Two of the challenges were meshed into one app for kiosks that would provide information about local events and resources, and it has not yet been implemented. The last challenge featured an idea from a team of South Eugene High School students to put sensors turning lights on and off at the Parcade Garage on 8th Avenue and Willamette Street, and this is also still in the works.

Davis adds that the hackathon will continue in 2017. To follow upcoming events, check out TAO on Facebook.