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Taking our design challenge virtual!

A Hack Homelessness 2020 recap

By Julia Wang

The 2020 edition of Hack Homelessness took place throughout the second week of November! As part of our Hack Homelessness initiative, we brought together lawyers, engineers, designers, thinkers, and builders with the goal of finding technology solutions to several legal issues related to homelessness.

Unlike last year’s inaugural hackathon, this year’s design challenge took place over the course a week to allow for more flexibility while working together remotely. The virtual format allowed 50 people from all over the world to participate and collaborate, including from Canada, the Czech Republic, and Paraguay.

The Opening Session of Hack Homelessness 2020 took place on Sunday, November 8. In this launch, we introduced the hackathon, described the resources and mentorship available throughout the week, and began the team formation process. In Professor Alice Armitage’s Access to Justice, Design Thinking, and Homelessness class, students had prepared four pre-specified themes (eviction, NIMBYism, stolen belongings, and zoning) throughout the semester to guide initial team discussions. Participants were also free to come to the hackathon with their own ideas. Watch the recording of the Opening Session below.

After the six teams were formed, participants started brainstorming the specific problems within their chosen theme that they wanted to innovate for during the course of the hackathon. Mentors in each topic and legal technology were available throughout the week to help guide teams through their ideas and solutions. Our six mentors were Hannah Chung, Staff Attorney at API Legal Outreach; Sam Flynn, CIO at Josef; Dorna Moini, CEO and Co-Founder of Documate; Peter Papadopoulos, Land Use Policy Analyst at the Mission Economic Development Agency; Keith Slenkovich, Director at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights; Matthew Tom, Associate Mediation Counsel at the SF Bar Conflict Intervention Service; and Sonja Trauss, President and Founder of YIMBY Law.

On Tuesday, November 10, we hosted a Keynote and Q&A Session with State Senator Nancy Skinner. As the primary sponsor of SB 330: Housing Crisis Act of 2019 and SB 1079: Homes for Homeowners, Not Corporations, she spoke about the housing crisis in California, the challenges in passing comprehensive housing legislation, and her legislative priorities. After her remarks, she answered several questions from hackathon participants.

Meanwhile, our team at LexLab also conducted two process check-ins with each team to ensure that things were running smoothly. By Thursday, teams had started conceptualizing and building out their solutions and were beginning to put together their presentations, and we were excited to see a variety of final solutions at the Showcase.

The Design Challenge Showcase took place over three hours on Saturday, November 14. We kicked off the Showcase with a Keynote and Q&A Session with Justice Louis Mauro, Associate Justice on the Third District Court of Appeal and Chair of the Work Group on Homelessness, an initiative started by the California Courts to address the pressing issues of housing and homelessness in California.

The four judges on our panel were Gerrit M. Beckhaus, Counsel at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, Co-Head of the Freshfields Lab; Olga V. Mack, CEO of Parley Pro; Anel Muller, UX Operations Lead at PayPal; and Sacha Steinberger, Founder & Co-Executive Director of Legal Link. Our judges have abundant experience in making the law a better service for its users, and we are so grateful for their expertise and perspective in evaluating our teams’ solutions and final presentations.

Congratulations to the NIMBY Hackers team for their winning idea, as well as the Belonging team for being the runner-up! As their prize, the NIMBY Hackers team is donating $1,000 to Moms 4 Housing, an Oakland-based collective of homeless and marginally housed mothers with the ultimate goal of reclaiming housing for the community from speculators and profiteers.

Great work to all of our teams for their amazing and innovative solutions! Watch the recording of the Design Challenge Showcase below. (Timestamps are available in the description.)

The ID Please team proposed an SMS-based technology to facilitate passive digital voter registration for people experiencing homelessness. Their goal was to combat NIMBYism by empowering people experiencing homelessness through voter enfranchisement and promoting a pathway to civic participation. Team members: John Hwong, Alan Underwood

The Twilight Zoning team presented their idea to build a more equitable legislative process by facilitating communication between stakeholders and legislators in order to build coalitions and draft comprehensive housing reforms. Through their platform TrueRep, stakeholders have more opportunities to be represented in the legislative process and level the playing field, which can help build trust in government and create better legislation that is more likely to be passed. Team members: Judith Aragon Vega, Kadia Bah, Sam Bidgoli, Daniel Forthuber, Emily Kamleh, Yousef Kazerooni, Suruchi Khamesra, Chris Michail, Madeline Whitehill

The Asian Persuasion team created YIMBY On!, a match-making service app for San Francisco residents to pledge support for affordable housing by temporarily taking homeless people under their wing and off the streets. With this app, they aimed to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness by getting them into temporary housing until a long-term solution can be found, change the attitude of NIMBYs in SF by showing them the benefits of affordable housing, and start a grassroots movement that will ultimately lead to policy change. Team members: Bryant Le, Ron Park

The NIMBY Hackers team introduced WIMBY: What’s in My Backyard?, an app that is shared with people living in a neighborhood where a new housing development is proposed. Through this app, residents can view the housing projects that are proposed in their neighborhood, get information about their concerns, take part in polls and surveys, and receive updates on the project throughout its lifecycle. Based on feedback from the neighborhood, developers can create community-informed designs that aim to provide an integrated approach to permanent housing for people experiencing homelesness while also serving the interests of the larger community. Team members: Megan Armstrong, Brett Greene, Lauren Warwick, Jen Wong

The Belonging team focused on the issue of stolen belongings and created a secure, portable, durable and multipurpose storage unit, along with an app that facilitates item inventory and tagging, as a means to protect unhoused individuals’ belongings from being taken or lost in a sweep. Through QR codes, unhoused individuals can open and secure their mobile storage unit, as well as track its location in the case that their belongings are taken by city officials in a sweep. Team members: Ram Bhadra, Connor Bowes, Kelly Carson, Zehra Jafri, Kyle Lazer, Bailey Maher, Iveta Posledni, Anahi Servin, Danielle Shoshani, Kameelah Sims-Traylor, Anjali Vadhri

The Zero Eviction team proposed Zero Eviction SF, an app that helps renters understand their eviction notice and connects them to legal resources. Through this app, busy, low-income San Francisco renters will be able to quickly understand the eviction process and the actions that they need to take, as well as take advantage of the legal resources in their area. Team members: Alisha Alcantar Tomovic, Adriana Barajas, Sasha Bobrowicz, Xin (Jaya) Hu, Daniel Joonhee Lee, Stephanie Yim, Hong Yu