Helping hand: Purdue students to develop communication platforms to help homeless access life’s necessities

November 14 2018

Purdue University students are on a mission to help homeless people find the resources they need to survive, such as a safe place to sleep, somewhere to get food and ways to access health care.

The Anvil, a Purdue student co-working space, and the Purdue College of Liberal Arts are organizing the social entrepreneurship competition Crossing State Street, challenging students to come up with communication platforms that will allow homeless people to stay informed about available resources.

Care For Friends, a program that helps the homeless in Chicago, will be the beneficiary of the students’ work. Gary Kenzer, executive director of Care For Friends, says he hopes students will design simple platforms.

“We want it practical so that it’s easy for a homeless person to use on their iPhone or Android,” he said.

A mobile phone can be a lifeline for the homeless, providing information to a spectrum of services and also allowing them to maintain social ties. Kenzer said that although some might think creating a cellphone platform for the homeless might seem odd, most homeless have cellphones. The service is free for the homeless in Illinois.

A report from the Housing and Urban Development department estimates just under 554,000 people are homeless in the United States.

The event, sponsored by Matt Shobe, an alumn of the College of Liberal Arts, will take place Nov. 16-18 at the Anvil, located near the Purdue campus at 320 North St. in West Lafayette.

Organizers say the competition will include aspects of a hackathon, a design competition and a business model competition. Students from various colleges and backgrounds will be able to showcase their different skills as they work toward a technical and sustainable solution.

A video about Care for Friends is available here.

Kenzer said the best thing anyone can do for the homeless is to treat them with respect.

“Talk to them. Don’t marginalize them out of society. I think that’s the worst thing we could do,” Kenzer said. “Offer them something like, ‘How is your day? Don’t say something like, ‘It’s a shame you’re homeless. What happened?’ That’s very dehumanizing.”


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