Targeting Youth Homelessness
Excella is a leader in community outreach. We are involved in various programs that support homeless families and help them achieve self-sufficiency, stability, and permanent housing. Given our presence in the community, it was no surprise that we got involved in the Opportunity Project.
The Opportunity Project brings together government, technologists, and communities to create digital tools that help strengthen American economic opportunity. They gave us a problem statement: help address youth homelessness. We collaborated with data partners, government entities like the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services, the Fairfax County School District, and nonprofit leaders like Second Story to build FindMySpot.
The website is available here: www.findmyspot.org
Using it, people can find shelters, services, and free public wifi, based on their current location.
The Beginning of a New Initiative
In order to meet the need, we performed an exercise to home in on the problem statement: “As a homeless youth, I need an anonymous, non-stigmatized way to find the resources I need.” Once the objective was clarified and confirmed, we created an implementation plan and executed against it with a cross-functional team of designers, developers, business analysts, and a Scrum Master. They supported the Product Owner and delivered a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for stakeholders.
We used an Agile approach which was well-suited for the need and provided rapid and frequent feedback. We chose a technology stack method to implement the solution. We used React on the front end, Ruby on rails on the backend, and PostgreSQL as the database system.
The biggest challenge we faced during implementation was determining how to utilize the community data set. It contained useful information that helped us work out our design. However, during implementation, we became concerned about the data set's integrity. We also discovered new constraints that would limited future extensibility. We were faced with a serious dilemma. Should we create a new data set sourced by local community members or proceed with the existing one?
Our initial attempts to create a new data met with challenges. There were gaps in the data that hindered the effectiveness of the application. It was important to ensure accurate data collection in order to route users to the right locations, shelters, and services. To rectify the issue, we partnered closely with specific points-of-contact to improve and update the data set.
The MySpot Design
Although the app has yet to be officially launched, we collaborate frequently with end users. Because the target group are minors, designers and developers faced some specific constraints. One was the elimination of any application profile. User profiles are ubiquitous in the app world, and businesses have leveraged user data to not only enhance user experiences but to also to offer personalization. Due to the nature of the application, the development team had to focus on designs that diminished any potential for stigmatization. Anonymity was critical to the user experience. This did not, however, limit our creativity. Keeping true to our word and recognizing our problem statement, we envisioned a final product that would speak to the youth: something bright, fun, and similar to experiences on other social platforms.