App seeks to help homeless people connect to shelter, services | KNKX

App seeks to help homeless people connect to shelter, services

Nov 22, 2019

One issue in the system of services for those near or experiencing homelessness is inefficiency. A Denver-based developer is hoping his app can help solve that problem, and some service providers in Seattle are starting to experiment with it.

The app is currently called Strappd, though developer Raj Lanka hopes to change that name and does business as Shelter App, Inc.

The app acts as an interactive directory for shelters, food pantries and other services. The results are sorted by location and can be filtered by the user's needs, such as "youth" or "LGBTQ." It also has the capacity to show real-time information like how many beds are available.

Lanka began working on the app about three years ago after interacting with people living outside in Denver.

"Technology has a really big role to play in homelessness," Lanka said. "We are in the 21st Century, so we have the technology out there."

The app is still very much an initial startup, and Lanka still works full time as a database administrator for a tech company. But his goal is to turn Shelter App into a fully-formed nonprofit and earn funding to help spread the word about the app.

Although he's based in Denver, Lanka's app includes information for service providers around the country. He says he could see people were finding the app through searches in cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, so he expanded the scope of the platform. 

There is a lot of skepticism around the role of technology in fighting the homelessness crisis. Service providers would have to commit to keeping information up-to-date, a challenge for workers who may already be overwhelmed. A directory app also fails to address issues of capacity: Technology can't create more shelter space or more providers.

Amanda Richer sees those critiques, but still thinks there's potential in a Shelter App. Richer used to be homeless, but she now consults with nonprofits working with that population through her company BEING. 

"If you do a quick glance, you don't understand the real capabilities and the scope that this could reach," Richer said.

She sees this app as a "game-changer" in efficiency when it comes to connecting services to people who need them.

"Once people understand that and they hear about it more and they see people using it, they're going to be on board," she said.