UP students create app to help homeless shelters speed up service

Posted on April 28, 2020

Two University of Pretoria (UP) students from the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT) have developed a mobile app for homeless shelters to access assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The app was created by second-year computer engineering students David de Villiers and Kian Strydom for the Tshwane Homelessness Forum, to enable shelters to communicate more quickly with warehouses about their needs. The students developed the app as part of the compulsory community-based learning undergraduate course, which requires students to use their skill sets to do experiential learning that’s offered to all EBIT undergraduate students.

University of Pretoria students David de Villiers (left) and Kian Strydom (right).

“We felt we could really make a difference in our community, especially during the pandemic, and help further the cause of offering homeless people a safe, secure place to stay,” De Villiers says. “This was our way of taking our existing skill set and giving back to our community.”

According to Strydom, the app took about a week and a half to complete.

“The app provides a user-friendly interface by which shelter managers can easily submit details about stock and requirements for their respective shelters to a singular database and spreadsheet. This creates an easy way for both site managers and workers at the distribution centre to gain access to the data and to provide optimal supply and service to each other and the community at large.”

Strydom explains that the app caters specifically for centre managers and other staff members such as social workers.

“The app is intended only for shelter managers and workers at the distribution centre and is not available to the public. It does track some documentation of the beneficiaries at each shelter, but not of the shelter managers. The data and app itself is protected through password encryption; this keeps the app safe from any unnecessary tampering with the sensitive data. Although the app is built for this specific community and its unique needs, it is easily adaptable and very modular, making it easy to update and change it for different communities with similar needs.”

De Villiers says that during development, they faced a few challenges getting the app up and running.

“It was a significant challenge to do the project during the lockdown as we could not communicate and collaborate face to face, and had to do so with online resources. The app was functional within four days, but it had flaws and was not available on all mobile app stores.”

But they soon improved it, fixed the errors and released it on the Apple App Store.

“Due to the pandemic,” De Villiers says, “the Android version of the app had an abnormally long review time, and we had to find a different way to distribute it, which we did by hosting a version of the app on Google Drive and sharing the link for users to install. I am happy to say that the app is now available on both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.”

They plan to continue working on the app to provide the necessary updates and equip it with other functionalities.

“We have implemented features based on the needs of non-profit organisations, and will continue to do so should a new need arise,” De Villiers says. “We do not have plans to implement any additional features – those that have been implemented are adequate for the time being, but additional features can always be added if necessary.”

The duo are grateful for all the support they received throughout the creation of the app.

“We would like to thank UP, Dr Martina Jordaan and the Community-based Project (JCP) 203 module for connecting us with PEN Shelters and the Tshwane Homelessness Forum to develop this app,” De Villiers says. “It was a significant and worthwhile challenge, and the feeling of giving back to the community is amazing. We are proud to have helped these communities and non-profit organisations. I hope this app serves them well for as long as they need it, and that we can use our skills along with everything we have learnt at UP to continually give back to our communities – and in the process make the world a better place.”

- Author Masego Panyane

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