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'Gimme Shelter' Hack-a-thon To Help Tampa Homeless

Swiss Open Cultural Data Hackathon 2015 at the Swiss National Library
Swiss National Library; Simon Schmid, Fabian Scherler
The Tampa Innovation Alliance will be hosting a hackathon in hopes of creating apps that can improve the situation for the homeless in Tampa.

With roughly 2,000 people living on the streets of Tampa every day, a group of local web designers and programmers are hoping technology can help out homeless residents or the organizations that support them.

Starting Friday, (June 3) the Tampa Innovation Alliance will be holding a weekend-long ‘Hack-a-thon’ it calls “Gimme Shelter.” More than 100 people are being challenged to design a tool, such as a cell phone app.

Alliance Vice President Kelley Sims said a cell phone is often a vital day-to-day tool for people without other contact information. She said the number of homeless people with cell phones may be surprising.

“Nearly 100 percent of them do have a phone. In some cases they may not be smart-phones, but more than the majority do have a cell phone available to them,” she said. “Finding applications they can use on their own is a viable option for them.”

This Tampa event coincides with a ‘National Day of Civic Hacking,’ where developers, programmers and coders host civic tech events to utilize their skills to help the community. Tampa Alliance leaders designed to focus their efforts on the homeless population.

In 2015, a homeless count in the city of Tampa estimated there were more than 1,900 people living on the streets inside the city. Nationwide, more than a half million Americans are considered homeless, according to the Homelessness Research Institute.

Alliance officials say they hope the apps created by participants will be helpful and marketable beyond the city boundaries. The Alliance is providing 10 possible modules that coders and programmers could build upon, but are hoping to see innovative new ideas, Sims said.

“For us the idea that someone who is without a home can say ‘where is the closest bed to where I am right now? Where is the closest shower or meal?’ We are so excited to be able to provide that service to them,” she said.

The hackathon will be held at the Crossover Church on E. Fowler Avenue.