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Sheltr App Helps You Direct The Homeless To Food, Shelter

Want to go beyond just giving change? This app can help you tell the homeless how to get the precise services they need.

In many big cities, it’s tough to navigate the world of homeless shelters and food resources. In Philadelphia alone there are 40 shelters, four intake centers, and countless organizations that offer food to the hungry. There aren’t too many homeless people with smartphones, but the people who want to help them have them, and now they have all that information in one place with Sheltr, an app built to help users find the nearest shelter and food, to make the network of homeless services a little bit easier to deal with.

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Designed during the Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon in December 2011, Sheltr gathers information about meal providers, homeless intake facilities, shelters, and more, and makes it all easily searchable. The app detects a user’s location to guide them to the nearest facilities.

Sheltr is currently only available in Philadelphia, the site of the hackathon. Typing in a random address–say, that of the Philadelphia Museum of Art–yields information on the many nearby homeless resources, including Acts Christian Transitional Services (0.8 miles away) and Youth Emergency Service Shelter (0.9 miles away). Clicking on an individual site pulls up specifics. For example, by clicking on Youth Emergency Service Shelter, we learn that the facility offers a day school, tutoring, health care, and counseling, in addition to basic sheltering. If you were looking for a shelter for only single women, the app could help you find that, too.

Of course, there are still some kinks to work out. At least one outreach coordination center discovered that they were not listed in the app. The creators of Sheltr are, however, continuously updating the app to include more detailed information about shelters and meal centers. Eventually, they hope to have real-time information about the number of beds available at any given shelter.

The app might not be limited to Philadelphia for long. It was recently adopted as one of the Code For America Brigade‘s deployable apps–meaning groups of civic-minded hackers are being invited to come together and bring Sheltr to their hometowns. Other deployable apps include the Vacant and Abandoned Building Finder, Public Art Finder/Mapper, and SnapFresh, an app that helps people find the nearest locations that accept food stamps.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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