Matching emergency accommodation with those in need.
The current housing crisis and rising homelessness in New Zealand are causing a huge strain on emergency accommodation in shelters and the like. Most shelters do not have automated systems to keep track of their own availability, and no visibility over what’s available in other shelters. If you’re a person in desperate need of a place to stay for the night and you present at a full shelter, it can be really hard to find a safe place for you.
SeekShelter is a web app that manages shelter occupancy in real-time and provides transparency to other shelters in the area. If somebody turns up and the shelter is at capacity, they won’t be turned away with nowhere to go. The shelter can quickly refer the client to an alternative.
SeekShelter is a social enterprise arising from Startup Weekend Kapiti held in July 2016. CEO MJ Brodie has a day job working in payroll at a government agency, but spends a lot of time volunteering in emergency housing. Over a number of years, and especially recently, she noticed that when someone shows up at a shelter needing a bed for the night, it’s often hard to find. When a shelter is full, the often try to help people out by doing a ring-round of the other shelters in the region, typically with a five year old phone list taped to the back of someone’s computer.
MJ bowled up to the Startup Weekend and pitched her idea on a bit of a lark – she wasn’t sure whether anyone else would be interested. To her pleasant surprise, she attracted a great team, including Kelcey Braine who is working on marketing, Michael Thornton and Silvana Tizzoni, both working on comms and outreach, and CTO Paul Simpson. At Startup Weekend, they built a working prototype which provides a searchable database of occupancy, location, and any restrictions (eg men, women, children), and contact details. The shelters they talked to were very interested as were support organisations like the Salvation Army and the Coalition to End Homelessness. The Startup Weekend judges were blown away by the quality of the presentation and the prototype, and SeekShelter won the competition.
SeekShelter are now doing a second round of validation, fine tuning the user interface and making sure their minimum viable product will fulfill basic needs, and plan to release a pilot version for Wellington in October, with a nationwide release around the end of the year. While Phase 1 focuses on shelters sharing information with other shelters, Phase 2 will expand the search out to the public, so that people can search for emergency accommodation themselves, and agencies like the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Corrections, and local Councils can also help people find a place for the night. Phase 3 is planned to transform SeekShelter into “Airbnb for emergency accommodation” so that approved members of the public can offer beds in their own houses to specific types of emergency accommodation seekers. The accommodation issues in NZ are similar in many ways to those overseas, and SeekShelter are investigating ways for their system to be used in other countries, too.
Seekshelter have yet to crack a financial sustainability model. They believe they have strong case for funding by MSD, as MSD pays accommodation fees to motels and the like at the moment, and could save significant money by more efficient allocation of shelter beds.
They’re also interested in exploring using SeekShelter for the allocation of emergency accommodation after a natural disaster, which MBIE have expressed interest in supporting.
If you’re connected to an emergency shelter, or to an agency that refers people to shelters, you can help out by making them aware of this great tool to help make more effective use of a critically short resource, or contact the SeekShelter team to offer support.