Article15 Bowie Students' Homeless Kiosks-001

Representatives from Bowie State University display their public kiosks for homeless shelters. They created software to be used with a network of local kiosks to help people find shelters that meet their needs. (Photo Courtesy Institute of Museum and Library Services)

On a stingingly cold day in late January, more than 1,100 individuals in the Washington Metropolitan area were without shelter, living on the streets, in alleys, under bridges, in local parks, in camp sites, and in other places frequented by the homeless. Thousands more were similarly bared to the elements in cities across the nation.

Students at Bowie State University, a historically Black university in Bowie, Md., have designed an electronic kiosk to help such displaced persons find shelter.

The kiosk, which the students recently unveiled before members of Congress at the Capitol Hill Maker Faire, provides real-time information about the availability of space in area shelters, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

The students designed software creating a network of area shelters, which provide information about the availability of their resources. Through the kiosk, which comprises a minicomputer, a wireless Internet adapter, and computer monitor, homeless persons can access up-to-the-minute data on which local shelters have available food, clothing or beds.

Courtney Lamar, an assistant professor of computer science at Bowie State and leader of the project, said the students’ invention will be a boon not only to homeless populations across the nation but also to the students themselves.

“Many students do not graduate from college having created a model or an idea they developed to solve a real-life problem,” Lamar told JBHE. “These students will definitely have an edge on their peers when they enter the workforce.”

That kind of innovation is encouraged at the Maker Faire and is necessary for the future of the United States, the White House has said. The Maker Faire is hosted each June by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services in collaboration with the Congressional Maker Caucus, Maker Media, and Nation of Makers. It highlights the growing “Maker” movement of hobbyists, tinkerers, crafters, and innovators that is “changing the face of informal learning at community institutions and is breathing new life and innovation into American manufacturing,” according to the Faire’s promotional material.