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Sacramento Hackathon Apps Fight Homelessness, Assist the Handicapped and Connect County Resources

Sacramento County’s Hack4Sac competition winners demo 13 apps to help citizens and departments.

by / April 13, 2016
At Sacramento County's Hack4Sac event, team SacSOS won first prize and the audience choice award for its app that helps the homeless find assistance services. Jason Shueh

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After six weeks of code and caffeinated nights, the Sacramento County Hack4Sac competition finished with three winning apps to confront a gamut of maladies.

On April 13, a crowd of technologists and government officials filed into a downtown administration building to present 13 tech solutions that solve county problems. The contest, sponsored by Code4Sac, e.Republic Labs* and the county, formed nine teams to generate the apps. All relied on data from the county’s open data portal, and each was judged on a rubric that grounded ingenuity and innovation alongside real-world impacts and feasibility.

Team SacHomeless received the first place prize of $5,000 — and audience choice — for its app SacSOS, which guides the homeless to food, shelter and social welfare services. Team Polling Accessibility received second place and $3,000 for an app that identifies accessible polling stations for disabled voters. And the third place spot, and its accompanying $2,000, went to team HARE, for creating the “Human Assistance Resource Exchange,” a crowdsourced platform that  inventories local resources for use between county departments.

Sacramento County CIO and Hack4Sac Judge Rami Zakaria credited the homespun apps and their creators for the quality and quantity of their solutions. He said that based on the participation alone, he and fellow county staff hope to turn the contest into an annual affair.

“I was thinking that if we could get five apps, we would be ecstatic, and we got 13,” Zakaria said. “So that, by far, exceeded my expectations.”

Fellow judge Timothy Potter, an open source advocate and senior software engineer at Lucidworks, likewise credited the teams for their informative uses of open data and open source collaboration. Potter lauded the fact that after the contest, the open source — or publicly available code — projects could be duplicated, customized and iterated upon by others on sites like GitHub.

“One of the things I appreciate about open source is that you don’t know at the start where you’re going to end up,” Potter said. “And I think tonight showed that. It’s one thing to put open data up on a website, and it’s another to make it accessible and apply creativity.”

His sentiments were shared by Todd Sander, VP of research and executive director at e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government (CDG). Sander said that out of the many city, state and county IT initiatives the CDG has organized to better public services, the Hack4Sac competition represented one of the finest.

"We’ve watched a lot of contests, we’ve sponsored many ourselves, we’ve been tracking this space for a long time,” Sander said. “And I have to tell you that the participation here in Sacramento County and the quality of applications is on par — or better — than anywhere else we’ve seen in the country."

Below is a list of the teams, apps and winners.

First Place and Audience Choice

Team: SacHomeless
App Name: SacSOS
Details: SacSOS is a Web and mobile app that serves as a homeless resource locator. It identifies local food stamp restaurants, shelters, health facilities and other resources to assist Sacramento’s homeless population. The app is coupled with a set of flyers that can be distributed to the homeless people who lack cellphones.

Team Members:
Joanne Werneke, Captain
Kevin Fries
Hillary Gaines
Kayla Granderson
Michael Tel
Emily Quinn Finney
Jeff Roush 

Second Place

Team: Polling Accessibility
App Name: Polling Place Accessibility App
Details: A Web app that allows voters with special needs to identify local polling places by accessibility features like ramps, curbside assistance and support for visual impairment.
Team Members:
Rasheed Bustamam, Captain
Hans Chun
Nate Cornell
Brooks Newberry

Third Place

Team: HARE
App Name: Human Assistance Resource Exchange
Details:
The Human Assistance Resource Exchange is a Web platform for departments, organizations and individuals to provide or request resources that others have in surplus — like clothing, furniture, non-perishable foods, computers and more. It supports civic open data by collecting anonymous resource data and releasing it through an application programming interface (API).
Team Members:
Christine Feaster, Captain
Koni Davies
Neal Fennimore
Erik Olson
Joanne Wu

*eRepublic Labs is is a state and local government market connector designed to help educate, accelerate and ultimately scale technology innovation in the public sector, and is owned by Government Technology's parent company, e.Republic Inc.

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.