The thinking behind the Sheltr web app, originally developed in Philadelphia in 2011, goes something like this: if people who are homeless (or people acting on their behalf) have access to a computer and an Internet connection — say, at a public library — they can use Sheltr.org to find anything that falls under the purview of homelessness services within a city’s human services department.
Shelters. Food pantries. Intake centers. These are mapped on Sheltr, and searchable by address.
An effort to bring that web app to Baltimore began in June during the National Day of Civic Hacking. Progress in finishing the Sheltr++ app was slow. But in September, a team of student-hackers from the Johns Hopkins University built a version of the app, which they called BMoreSheltr. Right now, however, BMoreSheltr exists only as a mobile app for Android. A clever hack, no doubt, but limiting for the constituency that, one presumes, would like to use it.
Finishing Sheltr++ — making it a web app, and building in a SMS feature so people can text in to find shelter locations — is now the goal, and at gb.tc‘s Tech Night on Thursday, the cross-city Sheltr project was awarded the $1,000 Civic Innovation Prize to see it through.
See all the nominees for the Civic Innovation Prize here.
Prescient timing, perhaps, given the uproar over amendments recently tacked onto a wide-ranging bill criminalizing panhandling that was introduced by Baltimore City Council last January.
Let’s not mince words: Baltimore’s treatment of people who are homeless and searching for impromptu shelter on its city streets has been salty, as was the case at Camp 83 near the Fallsway, which the city cleared out in March.
So finish and implement a civic hack, but also use it as a way to put pressure on lawmakers to implement more thoughtful public policy.
A blanket ban on panhandling seems awfully myopic. A concerted effort to help people find affordable housing? Less so. Perhaps Baltimore’s version of Sheltr.org could help in the effort.