Last weekend we supported the Manchester edition of #HomelessHack, an initiative started by a group in London that has quickly spread to other locations around the country. The event was organised amazingly quickly by a small team from Valtech and Sigma, linking into existing connections within Manchester Homelessness Partnership and the GM Mayor’s Homelessness Action Network.
We have all seen the increase in people sleeping rough and begging in our city, and this event showed again just how much compassion and empathy exists in our community. Many people with different skills and resources want to do something effective to help, but it can be hard to know what to do.
The hack concept is widely known in tech circles, and it was encouraging to see this event draw in a range of experiences, including 4 people with personal lived experience of homelessness, local charities and grassroots organisations, housing providers, policy makers, strategists and academics.
My favourite moment was Linda say how much she enjoyed the days and that the event had inspired her to want to learn to write code. You can read more about the event from Jamie.
Being honest, I have some doubts about how much sustainable impact comes from hackathons. The events are often really good fun, full of people with great intentions, and generate some fine ideas and connections, but unfortunately ‘its not just about the tech’. Very few ideas can exist on tech alone, no matter how brilliant they are – to engage and inspire the right people takes time and energy on an ongoing basis. Many that come to hacks would genuinely love to follow up, but life kicks back in when the events end, and it’s often too hard to carve out the space needed for the ideas to really fly.
There was a real feeling from the event that this issue is too important for that to happen this time. Manchester takes pride in it’s history of co-operation and collaboration, and we want to work together to bring about effective change. I want to share an idea we would like to trial to see if we can do ‘techforgood’ in Manchester in a way that is sustainable, and based on what we know is needed.
Working in a co-productive way with the Manchester Homelessness Charter action groups, we have a backlog of requests for streetsupport.net that have been requested by people with lived experience of homelessness and frontline organisations. We already have the base platform, an active user base, a Manchester partnership, and a GM wide network who can test and feedback on our ideas. We can measure impact and understand what is effective quickly, and with a diverse audience. So…
What if we could bring together a community of creative and digital folk to work together to develop this network, to support people experiencing homelessness and really make a difference?
What if we got together once a month to work on features that we know are needed? With a reliable team of regular volunteers, we could deliver more features that have been requested faster, and test new ideas that emerge.
We have already had the offer of a free city centre venue and refreshments, and there is interest from various individuals, agencies and businesses. (Tony Foggett has suggested a great name for a Manchester group – check out the definition of a ‘Raising Bee‘).
Our lead developer Vince Lee is on hand to support on the tech stack side, and with my BA background and the offer of support from project managers, we can make sure we set the conditions to make the most of people’s time. For developers, there is more information about our tech stack here.
There is potential for this community to spread, partnering with Manchester based companies willing to donate time as as part of their CSR. If the community grows, we can support the needs of other organisations in the network too. It’s a new way of thinking and we will experiment and learn together as we go, in true hackathon spirit.
If you are interested to help shape this and to be involved in any way, please join our slack group, or message me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you support the mission but don’t have time please share with your networks.
Lets do this Manchester!
Viv, Co-Founder Street Support Network