The Path—Next Generation


The Scope of Work: Create an online resource (an app) for CLIENTS in difficult circumstances—people in trouble and needing to survive on limited resources. People like:

The app will also be a resource for any AIDES to these clients...

First Generation: The Path in its current rendition consists of a pair of web pages (The Directory and The Library) located on my personal website.

The Library is working fine for now as a web page. Eventually I'd like to make it more appealing and accessible.

The Directory is a problem. It has become more and more cumbersome as I've added entries to it;  it's difficult to narrow a search to just the most appropriate services. The challenge with a dense, one-dimension list is pulling out the right information and only the most appropriate information. Clearly I need a more intelligent and searchable alternative.

I've stopped adding to the online list in order to focus on this next generation, even though I've identified hundreds more providers to be included in the database.

The technical concept: The Path will be a multi-platform application that queries a set of cloud-based databases in response to an array of criteria. The app will employ a well-designed and esthetically pleasing interface that will make it easy to find the kind of help that anyone in the above categories might need in a hurry. The solution will work on any platform, any device, have a great deal of intelligence behind it, and be comprehensive in scope.

A few challenges:
  1. Design a resource that's cost-free, easy to use, rapid, comprehensive and accurate.
  2. Make it available on desktops, laptops, pads, smart phones and smart watches.
  3. Populate the database with information on providers in the greater Portland area to begin with, then cover every county in Oregon, then cover neighboring states, then national.... (This will involve organization and paid staff as it grows.  Regardless, the app must be widely available at no cost.)
  4. Ensure that the database is secure and at the same time editable by service providers.
  5. Use GPS and other available technologies to determine the most appropriate local resources to display.
  6. Find a way for this to go universally viral.

The basic idea: This is how the app might be used by a typical client or aide, starting with a rough sketch of what the user might see when she brings up the app:

The input screen would be similar for any type of device, asking... * Upon opening, the GPS on a mobile device would fill in at least the editable ZIP Code box with the current location.

The "I want to find out about..." box would contain a scrollable list of services. Each item in the list would be a trigger to start a query in search of that specific service within the designated area.

An example.  A client is near Peninsula Park in northeast Portland and needs nutritional support for her child through the federally sponsored Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. She doesn't know how to go about signing up for the program and wants to visit a WIC office.

If she selects "WIC benefits" from the list, immediately the database would be searched for all providers supporting the WIC program within the specified radius of her GPS-designated local ZIP Code. (I have a copy of the USPS database of all ZIP codes with latitude and longitude of the center of each zone; I'm imagining I could develop an algorithm that would identify any record in the database located by ZIP Code within the specified radius.)

This is a preliminary sketch of the provider table structure...

Field Type
ProviderID auto
Name text
Address text
City text
State text
ZIP text
Phone1 text
Phone2 text
EmergencyPhone text
URL text
email text
SundayHrs text
MondayHrs text
TuesdayHrs text
WednesdayHrs text
ThursdayHrs text
FridayHrs text
SaturdayHrs text
HiddenLoc Yes/No
Description memo
AffordHousing Yes/No
HotMeals Yes/No
Clothing Yes/No
DVSupport Yes/No
WICbenefits Yes/No
...... etc. Yes/No
(I cut off the list here; it will include many more of these Yes/No categories of service.)

The query would search for all records with a 'YES' (TRUE) in the WICbenefits field. Ideally, responses would be ordered by proximity to the client's location. One of several responses might show up on the return screen as...
Provider: Northeast Portland WIC Office
Address: 5329 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR 97211 [1.6 mi.] (go there now)
Phone: 503-988-3503 (call now)
Hours: Today 9 AM to 5 PM. OPEN NOW
Note: see the OHA and USDA websites for instructions and more locations.

The 'call now' feature might only be operable on mobile devices, but 'go there now' might work on all devices given the user's current location address. The app might be able to tap into mapping databases (Google Maps maybe?) to determine best routes for walking, driving, using public transport, etc.

Next Steps: This is where I'm currently focused:
  1. Become comfortable designing in Visual Studio Code.
  2. Become proficient enough at JavaScript and Python to begin design of the app by Spring of 2021.
  3. Learn how to write to and query a cloud-based database, maintain security and allow appropriate access.
  4. Design an app to run on all platforms: iOS, Android, Windows.
  5. Design interfaces for all types of device: desktop/laptop, pads, phones, watches(?).

When design is complete I'll be asking for testers to verify the app on all types of device and on all operating systems.  At the same time I'll need help filling the database and assuring quality and currency of data.

When the app is ready and the database is large enough, the app must go viral. I'm determined to make that happen.

Updated 1/8/21. This webpage will document progress and next phases of this project.