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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

UF alumnus creates app that helps count homeless population

<p><span>Photo by </span><a href="https://unsplash.com/@evstyle?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Ev</a><span> on </span><a href="https://unsplash.com/search/photos/homeless?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>.</p>

Photo by Ev on Unsplash.

Although Zak Miller studied computer science at UF, he didn’t plan on creating an app dedicated to the homeless until after attending a programming event. 

Hyperion is an app created by Miller, a 26-year-old UF alumnus, that makes the surveys to count the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people, known as point-in-time counts, more efficient. The survey is done in the last 10 days of January and the data is then sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help allocate homelessness funds.

These surveys are usually conducted through pen and paper, said Martika Baker, coordinator for this year’s point-in-time count at Opening Doors Northwest Florida. Baker said the organization is looking for a way to digitize the surveys so the paperwork is minimized and the results come out quicker.

“It was a magical experience,” Baker said. “Our surveyors loved it, and they were just super happy.”

The app calculates data the volunteers collect, and then it automatically groups information together, such as race, age, veteran status and possible disabilities, Miller said. Other organizations that have digitized the surveys have used programs such as Google Forms, but it does not group the information from the survey automatically, he said. 

The program that conducts the count is called Continuum of Care, which is the regional or local organization that coordinates housing and services funding for the homeless. More than 400 organizations within the program conduct the homeless count nationwide. 

Miller said he got the idea in 2016 at Hackathon, a weekend-long event where programmers code projects, and after learning there was a demand to make the homeless count more efficient.

“UF did prepare me really well, so that when an opportunity did arise, I was sort of able to go out and take that opportunity,” Miller said. 

Miller has been developing the app since May, he said. Opening Doors Northwest Florida used the app for the first time in Escambia County and Santa Rosa County without being charged, he said. Organizations were given a free trial for this year's count, but prices for the app start at $2,000. 

The Continuum of Care program that manages Alachua County, United Way of North Central Florida, did not use Hyperion for its count because it was unaware of the app, but it used another program called Grassroots Unwired for the first time this year, said Mona Gil de Gibaja, president of the United Way of North Central Florida. She said she would be interested in considering Hyperion for next year.

Opening Doors Northwest Florida is currently processing the data, Baker said. She said she is happy to use an app that cuts the data collection process from two months to only a couple weeks because it automatically cleans the data by grouping the information collected on the homeless into categories. 

“I think he did a wonderful job in his application,” Baker said. “He made something that communities can really appreciate.”

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Contact Valentina Botero at vbotero@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @lvbotero_. 

Photo by Ev on Unsplash.

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