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ASU students develop app to help people experiencing homelessness access safe hygiene services

A view from behind of a student working with code on a laptop.
October 04, 2022

The challenge of finding accessible and safe hygienic resources is among one of many constant concerns for people experiencing homelessness. And with over 10,000 people without safe, secure housing in Arizona, finding solutions to support these individuals is critical.

Striving to provide solutions to this challenge, one group of Arizona State University Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions students has brought coursework into the real world.

Safe Hygiene 4U, which launched this month on iOS devices, offers access to maps and lists that share vetted resources like showers, clothing donation and shelters through nonprofits, gyms, truck stops, churches and more. And its team of student developers are already at work expanding the app’s offerings.

ASU students are ‘Coding for a Social Good’

The app was born out of the Coding for a Social Good course at Watts College during the spring 2022 semester.

“The class connects students to problems and solutions in the community,” said Chris Hayter, an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and co-instructor of the course.

The course combines elements of social entrepreneurship, coding and design thinking to help students enact change. 

Over the 15-week course, students work to identify a sub-challenge associated with the broader issue of homelessness, define a solution to address it and work to develop an app prototype that brings the solution to the community. Key to designing an effective prototype is understanding the basics of coding. To do so, the course used Apple’s Swift Playgrounds, a software and curriculum that helps students learn app development.  

“Students construct a solution concept to address their respective sub-problem and then spend several weeks testing and improving their concept, making it what Apple calls ‘buildable,’” Hayter said. 

Pulling inspiration from the experience of one team member who formerly experienced homelessness as a single mother with her child, along with information from a partnering nonprofit UMOM New Day Centers, the group worked from a number of statistics to inform their goal. They found that 37% of the nation’s homeless population is composed of families, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, while 90% of people who are homeless have phones and 80% of those people have smartphones, CNET reports

UMOM New Day Centers — a nonprofit providing shelter, housing and services to people experiencing homelessness — shared that 57% of people surveyed at their facilities wished there were more shower services that were readily available.

Building off of this information, the students got started on designing the Safe Hygiene 4U app to better connect residents to safe and available hygiene resources during the spring 2022 semester. 

"By the end of the course, students have a finished prototype of their app,” said School of Public Affairs Associate Professor and co-instructor Spiro Maroulis.

In order to provide students with the resources to bring their prototype from design to deployment, Hayter and Maroulis launched the Public Value Technology Accelerator to extend the course resources — including project management training, access to subject-matter and technical experts, and additional coaching.

ASU students Madeline Demasco, Dane Jensen, Alexander Parra, Gabriel Ammirata, Sarah Hurmez and Alexander Aragon-Sierra participated in the accelerator program over the summer.

Safe Hygiene 4U launches on the App Store

A student works on a laptop in a library

Safe Hygiene 4U's technical lead, computer science student Dane Jensen, works on the app.

“One of the main goals of the app was to make it as simple as possible,” said Dane Jensen, an ASU student who studies computer science and is technical lead of the project. To that end, the Safe Hygiene 4U provides both a map and list interface of resources. Resources include information like services, hours, website, directions through Apple Maps and personalized notes for things like pop-up trailers that operate at variable times and locations.

Users can rate and provide reviews of resources and can submit new ones to be added. But the team vets everything coming through the suggestion form for safety and contacts the operators of the service before including it on the map and list.

Safe Hygiene 4U is meant to reflect the community that is served by the resources it shares. The team interviewed people experiencing homelessness about how they find information and share knowledge.

“Something I learned during this whole process is that information is spread through word of mouth,” said Demasco, a senior studying biomedical engineering and project manager of the effort. “People will learn that there are resources for people that are safe for them, their kids and their families.

“With Safe Hygiene 4U, we hope to improve the health and confidence of families and their children.”

A crucial part of ASU’s mission is the social embeddedness of the university and supporting the communities it serves. Imparting the importance of this goal is also integrated into much of the learning experience at ASU, and the Coding for a Social Good course and its resulting Safe Hygiene 4U app are a perfect example of that.

The 2022–23 academic year marks the third year this course has been offered, as part of the Swift Community Playground initiative at ASU. 

This initiative is led by ASU Enterprise Technology with support from Apple’s Community Education Initiative, which partners with institutions to create opportunities for learners of all backgrounds to gain skills in coding.

The Safe Hygiene 4U app is now available on the App Store.

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