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Show HN: Beds and services for homeless youth (ysnmn.org)
100 points by judah on Jan 14, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments

Author here. Just a few technical notes about the site:

This was my first Angular project. I had done Knockout, Durandal, and classic server-rendered web apps before, but this was my first stab with Angular. I liked it, and now use Angular for most of my projects.

I used TypeScript and found the classes to work great with Angular's controllers.

C# and MS SQL on the backend, hosted on Azure.

On the site, youth can subscribe to get emails or text messages when a bed becomes available. For this, we use SendGrid and Twilio.

We're using a custom Bootstrap theme for the UI. This enabled us to easily make the site responsive, which was a major goal since most homeless youth have phones but not desktops.

The project was commissioned by Youth Service Network, a group of youth shelters in Minnesota, with grant money supplied by Microsoft and Target. Microsoft provided free Azure credits to host the site.

SendGrid and Twilio both got involved in the project and offered a large amount of free credits. Kudos to them for that.

God bless you man. Great project. Any way others can donate time, code, or $ to the cause of eradicating youth poverty, hunger and homelessness?

poverty, hunger, and houselessness of all ages is an admirable problem to work against! :)

Native Minnesotan here,

I was homeless at one point in my life, so this kind of hit close to home (no pun intended). Thank you for making this as great as you did.

Can you sort the search pages (like http://ysnmn.org/#/shelter) to display the shelters with available beds first? The first page of results I see lists some "No beds available" results before some with available beds.

This spec involves getting the shelters to update availability. That can be a tough deal; going on some web site is the last thing on a shelter manager's mind, esp. when they're full. But, maybe if this app gets popular enough the availability data could be crowdsourced (by shelter clients).

Great work and happy to see the support from all those corporations.

Agreeing with the others on the Minnesota label being needed on the site, but moreso - what do you think would be required to take this to other major cities? Is the limiting factor just data or is there more to it?

Aside: if this is still in active development, I'd be happy to offer some time on design & UX

Thank you! Super encouraging to hear the feedback.

Thanks for the offer for time on design and UX. It's ultimately up to the shelter network to continue with the next version of this app. I've got your email from your profile; I'll keep in touch.

Nothing would limit us from taking this to other cities. I'd suspect some minor technical changes. It's just how this effort was funded.

This is terrific. Thanks for doing it! The responsive design works great. It's simple enough to figure out with cold fingers on a mobile phone or in a public library -- which is where your target audience members most likely are.

Some suggestions.

Do you need a "we don't track you" statement, so the youth feel safe? (Or is it better not to bring it up?)

Somebody else mentioned that you have a geographic service area. It might be helpful to mention that, or to somehow geofence requests, for the sake of people in need from other geographies.

I wonder if "outreach worker" should say "somebody to talk to." Poor folks have a lot of bureaucracy to deal with, and it might be nice to offer the value proposition rather than the job title. Plus, it's a way to connect with folks who might be suicidal.

"Parenting" -- maybe "Taking care of kids".


Promotion: Stickers and signs. Bathrooms, in the stalls, are especially effective places to put them up. Youth with trouble don't want to be seen copying stuff off signs on bulletin boards (social stigma).


Is this available to be replicated in other geographies? If you want to try it in MA, I can work with you.

Wow - first, thanks for the awesome feedback. I'll relay this information to the shelters who organized this.

As far as replicating this in other states, I'd personally love that! I will speak with the organizers. Currently, it's a group of shelters in MN that got together to do this. They may be interested in branching out.

Thanks again for the feedback!

Slick interface, cool visual presentation, and awesome intentioned resource for people in need...but outside of seeing "MN" in the URL and clicking through the links, I wouldn't have known that this is limited to Minnesota/the Twin Cities metro area. I like the plain, straightforward and neutral approach to the listings, but perhaps a small logo (besides the iconography, e.g. the Y's distinctive logos) for each link would help to break things up. Overall, nice site. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for the feedback.

This is really great! Seriously, you don't know how helpful something like this is. My girlfriend worked for a charity that helped people find housing around Toronto. She was using this really ancient program from like 1995 to do it. It didn't really do much, she would just end up calling shelters around the city. From what I understood, most of her job was compiling data exactly like what your service provides.

I deactivate the geolocation api and I think that you should allow the user to tell you it's latitude and longitude if a user refuse to use geolocation.

It is a really nice initiative ! I will spread the word around.

Yeah, HTML5 geolocation is used when you search for shelters near you. (Obviously, the target audience is homeless youth.)

If you reject the geolocation prompt, the site still works fine; we just don't order the results by nearest location.

The server could use GeoIP to identify the user's city, which is probably accurate enough for finding relevant services. I imagine very few people know their current latitude and longitude. :)

You'd be surprised of some policies shelters adopt for their service areas.

It's possible that a shelter will only accommodate you if your last known address was west of X street within Y county limits (cities can span counties) and an odd numbered house.

This is really awesome. I'm actually working on a very similar app! It may be good to put a listing on the side of the cities you support. I'm assuming over time you're planning to grow the coverage.

It'd be great to have other cities involved with this. It's something the funding organization is interested in.

Thanks for building this; although I have never been homeless, this is something near and dear to my heart.

I second rmxt's comment about clearly branding this for Minneapolis.


Excellent project. Small angular error: when I go to http://ysnmn.org/#/services/30, it looks like there's a ng-repeat dupes error in the console. Using track by $index may solve this (I ran into this problem working with angular).

I don't see it on any other pages. Either way, nice work!

Judah, very nice effort. Two points of note for me:

1. When I click shelter it shows a very small nbr of beds available when compared to the nbr of beds shown when I click the Search icon on the homepage. Also agree with cpeterso's comment on this.

2. It was when I clicked the Search icon and scrolled to the bottom that I saw the wind chill advisory and only then saw it on the main page under Urgent news. Perhaps putting this link (Alerts/Urgent news) at the top of the page will improve its visibility. Not sure how it's rendered on a mobile browser.

All the very best.

Thanks for the feedback!

I really hope this service gains traction and 'vendor buy in' or whatever. It's nice to see someone using their programming skills to try and defeat a huge social problem.

Great design, I was able to navigate quickly through the app to find what I needed.

I work in this industry (SaaS provider for non-profits) and just sent the project out to the whole company.


Thank you for sharing it around your company! I really appreciate that and the kind words.

This is really awesome! One minor question... aren't you making a rather large assumption that homeless youth have internet access to use the site?

We did a lot of testing with actual homeless youth in Minnesota. Turns out, most homeless youth have a phone with a web browser.

I'm sure user research would answer this quickly, but my guess is that many may still have smart phones or, if not, public library internet access.

What is interesting is that most homeless youth or at-risk homeless youth do have access to smart phones. The difference is that they typically do not have an active data plan and rely on wifi access at local libraries, shelters, coffee shops, etc.

I was also involved with this... more on the product side working with the shelters.

A bit of delicate feedback: perhaps 'product' is a word that could be replaced with a differently-shaped synonym.

Check out https://www.openreferral.org/ -- maybe ysnmn could participate in developing the standard & integrate it into the site?

Great project.

feature request: queer/trans specific resources!

Thanks for the feedback.

We actually implemented this at first: when searching for beds, you could search for beds reserved for transgender and gay kids. Likewise, shelters could mark beds as beds alloted for gay youth or transgender youth.

But after talking to the shelters in Minnesota, they told us that they don't have beds specifically for transgenders or gays; if a female identity transgender person is most comfortable with female beds, they give that person a female bed. The shelters told us that creating beds specifically for transgender and gay people would further isolate them.

That said, we do show which services are GLBTQ-friendly. For example, see http://ysnmn.org/#/services/2

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