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Monday, March 19, 2018

UK Students Build App for Street Outreach Teams

Since the fall of 2017, four students from the University of Kentucky have been working with Breaking Ground’s Data Services team to develop an app to help our street outreach teams collect data more efficiently. The UK’s chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery for Women (ACM-W) reached out to us to see if there was a project we needed help with.

Data Services seized the opportunity, and Breaking Ground staff Jacky Sawyer (Director, Data Services) and Vanice Yee (Shared Services Coordinator) began working intensively with the students. After a semester of working on the project remotely, the students visited us in March for an in-depth view of outreach and data collection Breaking Ground-style.

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“For a homeless person, one day can be entirely different from another. It was really great to interact with people and learn more about what their lives are like and the challenges they face.”
Josh Bonock (Computer Science)

Starting with an outreach ride along in Brooklyn and Queens, the students were able to see what the work is like firsthand, determine pain points in data recording and collection, and meet clients who are experiencing homelessness on the streets. They spent the next day using what they learned to improve the user interface and programming of the app.

“Right now, the process for the outreach workers to enter data is really inefficient and time consuming. Our app is designed to help make the process more efficient, less time consuming, and maybe even fun. The collection of data is incredibly important to the work. The easier we can make it, the more time outreach workers can spend with people on the streets.”
Adrian Corwin (Computer Science)

The app uses Node.js (a framework based on JavaScript) and the Google Maps API, and is designed to interface with Breaking Ground’s databases. This capability introduces mapping features and should reduce the time that the outreach teams spend at the office recording data, since the app allows them to record data in real-time while in the field.

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“One thing I learned is that sometimes [an outreach team] encounters people in the streets and they don’t want help. But then people see outreach every day, and begin to understand that the teams are there to truly help them. It’s important for people to know that mindsets change. Just because someone doesn’t want help today doesn’t mean that they won’t want help tomorrow. Patience is really important.”
Amberlyn Scholl (Computer Science and Mathematical Economics)

The students learned a lot about how data is collected and how information is shared currently, giving them insight into how the processes can be automated and how communication gaps can be closed – and hopefully, people will get the help they need more efficiently.

“Seeing what happens, so I can get a better understanding – putting ourselves in the outreach workers shoes – has really helped us when building the app and programming. Learning the logistics of what an organization like Breaking Ground does to help people was a great experience.”
Jordan George (majoring in Computer Science and Finance)

The app is still in development, and the students hope to have a fully working version by the end of the summer, and our outreach teams are really looking forward to trying it in the field.

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