Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

How do you solve issues in homelessness with tech?

December 5, 2019

We’ve  just completed the Cisco University Challenge hack 2019. We teamed up with Crisis to explore the theme of solving the problem’s surrounding homelessness using technology.

Fourteen Universities from across the country sent sixty-five of their brightest techs and creative minds for this twenty-four-hour hackathon. For our part we supplied caffeine, sugar, beanbags and some super tech to incorporate into their hacks.

Cracking on with the challenge

On day 1 we discovered the are many causes of homelessness, such as a lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment; mental health issues, and life events which can cause individuals to become homeless.

The two challenges set by Crisis were:

  1. Our employment brokerage service in London currently work with a large number of employers to match homeless people with suitable job opportunities. How can we use technology to expand this service across all our centres in the UK and other organisations working in the homelessness sector?
  2. We are concerned that homeless people will become even more marginalised from society without the digital skills that we know will be increasingly required in the future. How can we address the issue of digital inclusivity for homeless people?

The challenge set, the teams embarked on building their solutions, whiteboarding, coding and learning. We gave them all access to DevNet resources, and delivered workshops on Meraki, Webex Teams and IoT giving them the option to incorporate these solutions in their final hacks.

The energy that comes with youth is remarkable. The members of the Cisco team matched the student’s stamina and enthusiasm providing support throughout the night.

Catching forty winks, answering Meraki API queries over Webex Teams and a beanbag amnesty

Day 2 and it was time for the presentations and judging. Despite the labours of the previous hours the teams were raring to go. As one of the judges I was blown away by the standard of the presentations, the understanding of the problems and the technical solutions demonstrated. It was quite remarkable what some teams managed to achieve within such a short period of time.

Solutions included employment collaboration platforms, mobile apps, shelter occupancy measurement using wireless access points, API integration, and actionable decision and policy making based on data insights derived through machine learning.

What was most laudable was that during this tech fest, the teams never lost sight of the human element to problems they were solving. Many teams incorporated features into their platforms that dignified the homeless, giving them an identity and ability to tell their story.

It really was tough to whittle down the solutions as so many demonstrated great innovation and creativity, but Glasgow University emerged as the triumphant winners in a hard-fought competition.

The winning team from Glasgow University

It was a really inspiring 24 hours, not only to see the monumental hard work performed charities like Crisis, how companies like Cisco can play their part, but especially how students can use their technical skills and empathy to address the very human crisis of homelessness.

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