Diary of a Homeless Hackathon

This April Equator’s Production manager Philippa joined over 70 people at CitizenM Hotel Glasgow to help solve some of Scotland’s homelessness problems.

The Homeless Hackathon, hosted by Gallus Events, aimed to bring together the Scottish tech and start up community to rapid prototype solutions to problems raised by charities and other organisations dedicated to end homelessness in Glasgow and across Scotland.

Philippa documented the events of the hackathon to give an insiders perspective on what happened.

Friday 13th April


A quick dash from the office over to CitizenM Hotel where I enter the event space and its buzzing atmosphere.

On arrival I’m greeted by the organiser and some of the sponsors and given a brief overview of the evenings plan. The events team also ask me to choose a name tag in the form of a floppy disc with a coloured lanyard (simple, retro and different – I like it!).

  • Blue represents you are from the tech community
  • Pink is for those involved in the homeless community, either from a service provider or someone who has experienced homelessness
  • Green for those who have a wider skillset and are happy to help anyway they can.

I choose a blue badge, despite not being a developer I’d like to think I have a good grasp on the technical lingo and processes.

After grabbing a coffee [provided by the organisers] to keep my energy levels high after a day in the studio, I get settled at one of the tables and chat to some other attendees.


All the attendees migrate into the presentation space, excited to get started.

The hackathon is kicked off with a welcome, ground rules and an inspiring introduction to the need for practical solutions to help the homelessness and rough sleeping situation in Scotland.


Following the introduction to the event, we move onto presentations from several homelessness organisations, each of them have projects that they need help solving a key problem they face. Some of these are:

  • A new website for one of the charities
  • A risk assessment app for monitoring rough sleepers
  • A system for centralising services available to the homeless community
  • A cashless system for the public to easily donate to people who are homeless
  • An app for excess food to be donated to the homeless community
  • A heating device to help prevent weather related health issues for rough sleepers


After the presentations and a brief break for pizza, the event space is split up for different projects so the hackers can choose what they would like to work on.

I decided I’m up for a challenge, so choose one of the bigger projects aiming to create a system for centralising services available to the homeless community. This project was requested by three of the charities, so has the opportunity to help a lot of people!


Once we have our team we get chatting about different ideas we all have following the presentations, and agree a rough approach. We decide we would like to make a web application which centralises all the local services available with a simple search feature that also meets accessibility standards.

In an effort to get ahead of the game, the team discussed different people’s skills and what each person thinks they can specialise in for the project.

We also set up a group on Nooq, the collaboration tool of choice for the hackathon, and a Trello Kanban board to allocate work and show the status of tasks throughout the hackathon. We then started to add key tasks for the following day.

Saturday 14th April


Everyone is in early, coffee fuelled and ready to get going. After a quick catch up, the team decide that the best place to start is to refine the brief / scope of the project. We find a quiet space in the hotel and start to detail out what we hope to achieve in the time we have.

We agree on the top level project brief being:

  • Create a centralised source of accurate, trusted service providers
  • Enable service providers to advise people in need in real time
  • Empower people in need, to discreetly access services themselves
  • Produce a solution that meets accessibility requirements

From the brief, we begin to create personas, user stories, and deliverables, everyone has lots of ideas and discussions are flowing. This is definitely one of my favourite parts of a hackathon, as you get to hear how different people interpret a brief and consider solutions you may not have thought about


With a clear idea of what we need to achieve overall, the team splits to focus on 2 key areas, establishing a brand and beginning work on the application development.


After 4 hours of working away, we have a team catch up to discuss progress.

Those focusing on the brand presented their suggested name, colour pallet and tagline along with rational for group feedback. The brand team came up with the name HARBR, standing for Help, Accessibility, Respite, Benevolence, Resources.

The development team had refined their approach to focus on creating a simple API to feed into multiple variants of a front-end solution. They decided to focus on using open source technologies, with a simple JSON API, making it scalable and portable. HARBR would also use HTML5, CSS media queries and jQuery to present a single brand style across all devices.

We also decided that to help bring the product to life in the pitch we will create a database with real service data.

Everyone was really impressed with progress so far and excited to start to see the project taking shape.


HARBR’s creation was well and truly underway so we got back to work, starting to apply the brand to the wireframes and continuing work on the API.


We reached the end of the second day of the hackathon, having made some great progress and headed home for the evening.

Sunday 15th April


Starting the day right with some coffee and inter-team discussions while waiting for everyone to arrive, it was exciting to learn about all the different approaches other teams were taking to their projects.


The focus of the morning was to pull together the pitch presentation, finish the interface designs and refine the API. (We didn’t have a front-end developer in the team unfortunately, so the interface needed to be represented with designs.) Everyone was revved up and raring to go, so back to work we went.


We had volunteered to be the first group to present, so decided to have a working lunch and regroup to rehearse our pitch to ensure everyone was comfortable with their part.

A couple of minor tweaks and we were good to go!


Formal presentations got underway with judges from each of the charities, sponsors as well as members of the local council. The judging criteria was outlined as below:

  • Usability by end user
  • Implementing the brief
  • Look and feel
  • Impact and readiness

All the hackers also got to feed into the overall score via a voting app.

We were up first, eager to show everyone HARBR. We explained that is was a web-based application to connect service providers and people at risk. Describing the brand and the thought process behind its creation, as well as the technology approach, before finishing with our proposed future developments.


After a good few hours of pitches, the judges went away to deliberate, and we all cast our votes via an app.


The results were in, and we came an admirable third place!

Team HARBR and the services we worked with to create it; Social Bite, Bethany Christian Trust and NHS were delighted with the results.

The next stage is for the charities to use the work done over the weekend of the hackathon to apply for some funding to continue development and hopefully bring HARBR fully to life.