28 March 2017 • by Lotte Hoes
Hackathon helps the homeless
‘What if we’d turn it around? Instead of saying that homeless people have hit rock bottom with their problems, we could say that they’re starting out on a new life,’ said Sanne van Alphen, a fourth-year student in User Experience. She was standing next to the word web she had just chalked up on the blackboard. She and almost 30 others were participating in ‘Hacking for the Homeless’, a hackathon that Innovation Playground and Stichting Limor held on Tuesday.
A hackathon is a session during which a group of people brainstorm certain problems non-stop for a certain length of time. In the case of ‘Hacking for the Homeless’, the participants addressed two questions faced by Stichting Limor, a foundation involved with the problems confronted by the homeless. Firstly: how can we improve the social networks of the homeless? And secondly: how can we help them get a better picture of their entangled mass of problems? After all, many homeless people are dealing with such issues as drug addiction, psychological problems and mounting debts. An underlying problem is that most of them don’t have a social safety net. To get answers to these questions, Stichting Limor and Innovation Playground invited people from all walks of life to help them out. This resulted in a group of 30 participants consisting of homeless people, former homeless people, social workers, students and lecturers who brainstormed for two hours non-stop.
‘Actually, this hackathon was an experiment in seeing how we could help Stichting Limor,’ said Carmen Hutting, Programme Coordinator for Innovation Playground. ‘And it was successful, because people really came up with some good ideas!’ Sanne’s group, for example, was working on ways to increase the mobility of homeless people. After all, this plays an important role in maintaining social contacts. ‘Why not give homeless people a bicycle? It would have to be a highly recognisable kind, however, to keep them from selling it.’ Sanne also proposed giving homeless people a diary that they could use to write down weekly objectives. ‘This is because homeless people are focused mainly on simply surviving instead of considering their future. A diary could help them take steps toward a better life.’
Other groups used green screens, Duplo bricks, drawing sheets and glue sticks to create plans for things like apps; many homeless people use a smartphone to reinforce their social network. ‘Stichting Limor is going to look into what they can do with these ideas,’ said Carmen. Sanne added that the participants thought the 2-hour time period for this hackathon was not really long enough to come up with prototypes of their ideas. But this was intentional, said Carmen: ‘We had scheduled this for two hours because this session was an experiment. We wanted to see, first of all, if enough people were interested enough to show up. As it turned out, there were, so we’re going to see about planning another hackathon in a month or two. This one will be on a larger scale and will also last longer!’