The Hackathon for Homelessness: Using people-powered approaches to end homelessness

These insights have been compiled and written by Ellie Broad, Community & Events Executive at the Venture Studio from Crisis.

We know that homelessness can be ended, but we can’t end it alone.

Over two weekends at the end of March 2021, Venture Studio from Crisis teamed up with Deen Developers, a passionate community of techies and creatives who crowdsource their skills for social good, to host the #HackathonforHomelessness. Over the course of a few days, we brought together a diverse group of ten incredibly talented, curious, and emotionally intelligent teams to build impactful solutions to problem statements co-created by those with lived experience of homelessness. This hackathon taught us a lot. In this blog, we will bring to life the things we have learned.

Complex challenges demand people-powered approaches

At Crisis, we know that to end homelessness we need housing and forward-thinking policies. But, we must also find innovative new solutions to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place and to tackle its consequences. This is why the Venture Studio exists. Our mission is to build, invest in and support ventures that can either end homelessness for those experiencing it or prevent homelessness through root causes such as access to housing, finance, health or wellbeing services, or creating new pathways to employment.

So, what role does the Hackathon play in this?

Hackathons are a great way to pool our resources, be that time, money, or knowledge — to use our connections to tackle huge problems. They also build a bridge to connect those in society who want to have an impact in contributing to a problem they care about, with a tangible opportunity to use their skills for good. Bringing people with interdisciplinary backgrounds and different lived experiences together offers new ways of looking at problems, enabling you to co-create solutions, experiment with innovative methods, all whilst generating and sharing new knowledge.

One of the things I find most exciting about my role as a community builder in the Venture Studio is the impact that people-powered innovations can have on tackling society’s toughest challenges.

When communities are built with compassion, connection, curiosity, and collective power at their heart, we can act together. These foundations foster the culture and environment to spark an idea based on research and evidence, to then take it on a journey, turning it into a meaningful and tangible product.

A snap of team Givt from the hackathon!

Designing with dignity

While a people-powered community is full of well-intentioned people, many solutions often fail to consider the complexities of the problems they are attempting to solve, which can lead to doing more harm than good. We see what happens when solutions are created with good intentions but from zero insight, such as the phenomenon of the crisp packet blanket. We must innovate if we are going to end homelessness, the current ways of working are not working and the evidence tells us that. However, the standards must be set higher than good intentions.

We kicked off the hackathon with an incredible talk delivered by Professor Peter Childs from the Dyson School of Design Engineering at Imperial College London, exploring the concept of designing with dignity. This process ensures that any product or service must be informed by and ultimately signed off by someone with lived experience. It also moves beyond this, in the sense that by designing with dignity, teams can shape the way in which homelessness is perceived, communicated, and framed in public discourse.

In addition, at the hackathon, we didn’t just innovate for the thrill of it. We were problem-driven, working towards scalable, sustainable, and systematic outcomes. Most importantly, we were working to build solutions to problem statements informed by evidence from individuals with lived experience of homelessness and from our client services teams at Crisis. Throughout the weekend we also weaved in these expert voices, embedding them in co-creation sessions to ensure that they can give critical and timely feedback required for the teams to find the holes in their vision.

Read more about how you can design with dignity when tackling homelessness:

Spotlight on teams

Some brilliant MVPs were built and deployed in a short space of time. To see all the 10 prototypes, check out our pitch night:

Here’s a short summary of what the teams worked on:

  • Studio Street, minute 14:15
    Problem: People who have never experienced homelessness often have a negative perception of it. How can we build a dignified way to understand what people have gone through or what they need?
    Solution: A platform showcasing the creativity of people experiencing homelessness
  • Job Shelter, minute 30:12
    Problem: For people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness from migrant backgrounds, English isn’t their first language which naturally creates a barrier to access the UK job market and to earn a sustainable income for themselves and any dependents.
    Solution: A platform offering a new alternative to the traditional way of seeking jobs, targeted towards those experiencing homelessness, refugees, and migrants who struggle to find work due to language barriers. It requires no CV, the platform asks simple questions to uncover the skills and language that you have and use this to help employers headhunt.
  • Helpfulhub, minute 42:50
    Problem: Services are available across the UK to those in need, whether it is getting access to food, white goods, or help with finding a job. However, that information isn’t always very accessible.
    Solution: A service that helps you find local services quickly whether you have internet access or not
  • Lexii, minute 01:03:08
    Problem: People experiencing homelessness who have just been released from care, prison, hospital, or Home Office accommodation and have moved into new accommodation need a way to ensure successful local community integration.
    Solution: We help you find a language mentor in your community by connecting you with English speakers who speak your language a marketplace connecting diaspora English speakers who want to learn their mother tongue to migrants who speak it fluently.
  • Givt, minute 01:16:41
    Problem: People who have never been on the streets or experienced homelessness often have a negative perception of it. How can we build a dignified way to understand what people have gone through or what people need?
    Solution: A Givt platform creates conscious and local giving, connecting local communities with local charities to understand what they need in real-time
  • Nomadx, minute 1:31:16
    Problem: Without a fixed abode or address, it is not possible for someone to register for a bank account, yet benefits can only be offered to those with a bank account
    Solution: A verified digital ID
  • Homebuddy, minute 1:44:45
    Problem: How do we ensure that once housing is secured for someone experiencing homelessness, the items that make up a home including white goods, cleaning materials, bedding etc are available?
    Solution: An accessible marketplace to connect people with essential goods they no longer need, to people experiencing homelessness who are trying to turn their house into a home
  • Notice, minute 2:08:20
    Problem: People who have never been on the streets or experienced homelessness often have a negative perception of it. How can we build a dignified way to understand what people have gone through or what people need?
    Soultion: A community notice board that fosters community and supports those experiencing homelessness with the resources they need to permanently improve their situation
  • Team 8, minute 2:24:28
    Problem: People experiencing homelessness or have just been released from care, prison, hospital, or Home Office accommodation and have moved into new accommodation need a way to ensure successful local community integration.
    Solution: A digital, personalised checklist of things to do after the individual is released from prison, care, hospital, or Home Office accommodation
  • Connect Communities, minute 2:36:21
    Problem: For people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness from migrant backgrounds, English isn’t always their first language which naturally creates a barrier to access the UK job market and earning a sustainable income for themselves and any dependents.
    Solution: A project to support individuals by helping each other discover and connect with our local communities

Key lessons?

  • 🤔 Take the time to understand the complexities of the problem you want to solve
  • 🏗️ Huge social problems can’t be ‘solved’ in a day, but you can definitely make an impact and contribute to change
  • 💪 There are more ways to support a cause you care about than donating money, you can also lend your skills and passion to events like hackathons
  • ✨ Never underestimate people-power, even when folk are scattered remotely across the country and are connecting through a screen!

What’s next?

The #HackathonforHomelessness is just the beginning of our work with Deen Developers and these teams. Next, we’ll be supporting the products through the process of MVP to production, working to accelerate the growth of products and teams that wish to continue.

We want to say a final huge thank you to all the teams, judges, speakers, sponsors, everyone who took part, and to those reading this write-up.

You can check out other blogs exploring the first-hand experiences and learnings from the hackathon with learnings from Lavina Bhambra and Radi Choudhury.

Finally, for teams who have a product or service that can help us to end homelessness that are further along in their startup journey, please get in touch with us at venture.studio@crisis.org.uk to explore how we can support you.

Keep on designing with dignity.

Stay connected

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store