Student Homelessness Project Wins Statewide Award Contest

Seven UC Hastings Law students won a $5,000 grant to advance their proposal for protecting the belongings and dignity of people who are homeless.

After making it to the finals earlier this year in the University of California’s 15th Annual Big Ideas Contest, students participated in a pitch contest. Their project was then selected as one of the top 15 winning entries. An awards celebration is planned for September 23.

“This goes to show that our school prepares us to not only practice law and think like lawyers but to be innovators,” said rising 3L Zehra Jafri. “We can wear an entrepreneurial hat, as well as a software/coding hat, to help spur social change with respect to homelessness.”

Jafri developed the proposal along with rising 3Ls Ram Bhadra, Bailey Maher, Kameelah Sims-Traylor, and Jagdeep Sekhon, and 2021 graduates Steven Balogh and Kelly Carson.

It marked the first time a team from UC Hastings entered the contest, complementing the success of UC Hastings teams known for winning moot court, ADR, and trial team competitions.

Dean David Faigman congratulated the Big Ideas team and their professors. “I am thankful,” he said, “for the entrepreneurial spirit that so thoroughly runs through our academic community.”

The student project, called Belonging, aims to help people who are homeless by deploying secure wristbands that unlock storage units as well as scan and locate sentimental items.

The students originated the idea in Alice Armitage’s “Access to Justice, Design Thinking, and Homelessness” course. The class is part of UC Hastings LexLab’s Hack Homelessness initiative, which explores how technology and design might maximize the impact and accessibility of existing legal services for unhoused people, especially in San Francisco.

In the course, students delve into different issues related to homelessness such as eviction, NIMBYism, and stolen belongings. They then take their expertise to the Hack Homelessness design challenge, which is open to the public and brings together lawyers, developers, designers, builders, and thinkers from around the world.

The Belonging project’s success as runner-up in the design challenge gave the UC Hastings students the confidence to continue developing their idea. They built a multidisciplinary team that included students studying architecture and website/user interface design to enter the Big Ideas contest.

“It’s a huge achievement,” said Big Ideas Contest Director Phillip Denny. “I hope to see more UC Hastings students follow in the footsteps of Belonging next year.”