Homeless youth help design 211 info app


By Sue Cody


iphone-androidWhat makes an app appealing to youth on the street?


Homeless teens, foster youth and others were asked just that as 211 info began creating a mobile-friendly app for its guide to social services.


Five focus groups were convened and shown five designs for the app home page. All were of urban images. One was inspired by graffiti, another had feet on a sidewalk.


“The kids hated them,” said Community Engagement Specialist Raina Daniels. “Instead, they wanted something bright, hopeful,” she said. They helped design a brightly colored image of a road leading to a mountain for the app that launched Oct. 1.


The 211 info website and phone service offers guidance to health and community services, such as housing, food, help with electricity bills, meal sites, jobs and more. “It was not the most mobile-friendly,” Daniels said.


“There is an extreme lack of guidance in teen services,” she said. “211 has definitely been a great place to look at needs in the community. Teens are looking for resources after dropping out of school or losing housing. Printed resource lists change constantly. Local shelters change.


“It is important for me to make sure they have accurate relevant information without barriers,” she said.


“The app is useful for anyone, but we wanted it to specifically meet the needs of homeless youth,” Daniels said. The app can be downloaded for free from the Apple Store, Google Play or the 211 info website: 211info.org


Focus groups


“It was important to create an app that had the look and feel that was youth-friendly,” Daniels said. “The purpose was to gather information on how youth would use the app. How to structure it and what they might search for.


Daniels approached homeless and runaway services to form five focus groups around the state. The groups met at a variety of places, such as meal sites, transitional housing and teen drop-in centers.


“We knew going in we wanted to include the most common referrals – food, electricity, housing, health insurance, clinics, sexual health, LGBT support – a broad range of services. How would they prioritize needs?”


After leading the groups in warmups, Daniels showed them the app template and encouraged the teens and young adults, ages 16 to 22, to talk about the project. She said it was important to create a safe place where the participants could express their opinions. “There were no right or wrong answers,” she said.


Feedback from the youth was taken to the app developers and resource team. They had to scale back and scale up to meet the timeline and budget, Daniels said. The 211 info app had a soft launch Oct. 1.


“Kids seem to like it,” Daniels said. “It was a resoundingly positive with the focus groups.”


“It is a game changer for social service workers relating to clients,” she said.


Now, the resource team is collecting feedback, focusing on runaways and homeless youth. A second version is in the works.


IMG_20150214_180615Background with youth


Before joining 211 info three years ago, Daniels had worked with youth on emotional support and referral services. “I worked as a peer educator in college and realized I could do that.” After graduating from Antioch University, Daniels worked in suicide prevention and with health initiatives for youth in San Francisco.


She was involved with foster youth, the juvenile detention center and homeless youth. Working at the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center, she was involved in preventing overdoses, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), pregnancy, suicide and supporting strengthening families.