UPZ: An LGBTQ App for All

UPZ: An LGBTQ App for All

by Dr. Mark Mussman
P5 CAP513 Class One Photo: Key Beck

Last summer, I began a project called the Creative App Project here in Cincinnati. After teaching in a GED program for several years, I began to notice an interesting relationship between technology and education. I taught basic computer skills at the GED school because the GED is now on a computer (at a testing site, not on the internet) and so many people would come to our school and not even know what a mouse was. I developed a curriculum that began with taking computers apart and putting them back together. For me, it doesn’t make sense to just use something, I like to get inside of it to understand it.

I had heard of a new organization in town called People’s Liberty. It was going to award individuals (not non-profits) grants to do projects that engage Cincinnati. I went to an open house informational session without an idea, but by the time I left I knew that I could help Cincinnati become a more “tech savvy” place. My goal was to teach non-traditional tech people how to make Android Apps. Once I was awarded the grant I worked with a team to make sure that the participants would not be 35 year-old white men, but would be open and inviting to minorities in Cincinnati.

The class itself lasted only 10 weeks at the old Mercy St. John site by Findlay Market, and it was attended by mostly minority participants. We were the last program there when it closed last summer. Over the course of the 10 weeks, we developed 13 Apps, including apps on black women’s natural hair, vegan food options in Cincinnati, a cycling app, an app for photographers, and one to help the preservationists in town. All of these were individual’s ideas and passions. We also worked as a team to create an app for Lighthouse Youth Services that is aimed at reducing instances of homelessness among LGBTQ teens and young adults.

UPZ Listing on the Google Play Store
UPZ Listing on the Google Play Store

After Melissa Meyer from Safe and Supported, which is housed at Lighthouse, gave us the charge, the class broke into five teams, each one developed a look, a logo, functions, and flow charts for the app. We then took these ideas to the Sheakley Center for Youth in Mt. Auburn/Corryville and had the youth focus group the ideas. Key Beck led the focus groups and was able to capture what the youth liked and didn’t like about the app ideas. We took this information back to the group and I began creating a demo app. I began to incorporate what I was learning from my new position at the Homeless Coalition into the app. We met again with the advisory council for Safe and Supported, and confirmed that we were on the right track.

Once the demo was ready, we put it on a couple tablets and brought it back to the Sheakley Center. This was the true test of the work that the students had done – did we listen to them? Almost all of the youth said they would download the app today if it was available. This was a huge success! I then spent a couple of more months fine tuning the app and getting it on the Google Play Store. You can get UPZ today on the Google Play Store.

The App itself contains several parts meant to help youth before, during, and after they experience a crisis. Anyone can use the UPZ app – if you are a social service provider, it is good to have on your phone because it contains quick call and text options for the CAP Line and other hotlines for suicide, self-harm, domestic violence, 211, etc. It has a location feature that shows where users are on a map, and a map with important places like the Sheakley Center, public single bathrooms, wifi, libraries, and the BMV. It also includes games, a drawing board, an events calendar, a journal to record your feelings and activities for reflection, and a customizable avatar to express yourself. All of the personal information, including a contacts section, is password protected, so if your family or friends get your phone, they can’t get your private information.

The reason we focused UPZ on LGBTQ youth is because more than 40% of youth experiencing homelessness self-identify as LGBTQ – even though they represent a very small percent of the total population. Safe and Supported is working on reducing this number through rapid-rehousing, providing tools like UPZ, Safe Space training organizations, and educating the public (including parents) on the importance of empathy, understanding, and appreciation of LGBTQ youth.

CAP513 continues to provide community-based technology education today. Currently, we are working with Future Leaders of OTR to create a place-based gaming app that the youth have envisioned. We are looking for a permanent space to hold technology classes for individuals on fixed or low-incomes – we would like to remain in Over-the-Rhine, if possible. I will never know the true impact of the UPZ app, but I hope that it helps our community become more compassionate and connected. (Note: We hope to have an iOS version of UPZ out by the end of the summer.)