One Text: Colby College Student Connects Texas Residents with Shelters

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WATERVILLE, Maine (WABI) - One text. That's all it takes for those affected by Hurricane Harvey to find shelters in their area.

It's all thanks in part to a Colby College student.

"Usually when it rains, it floods a lot, but this was no joke."

Houston native Nile Dixon was getting ready to head back to Colby College for his sophomore year when Hurricane Harvey hit.

"There was a lot of wreckage."

"A lot of explosions were happening because of the combination of electricity and open sockets and things like that."

His city now flooded, with family and friends searching for answers and relief.

"You want to go out and help people, but you're not entirely sure what you can do."

Then, an idea...

"You text your ZIP Code to 3462140739 and then when you send the text message, in about a couple seconds you'll find the address to the nearest shelter."

"I built this texting feature which allowed for people to find the nearest hurricane shelter to their physical location."

With a single text, Dixon was able to connect area residents with the help they so desperately needed.

It started with streamlining shelter databases.

"If they didn't have internet, they wouldn't have had access to that list in the first place."

"So we wanted to solve that by building a texting feature where someone would text their address and then it would find the shelter that not only is open but can still accept more people."

Dixon teamed up with Houston based tech start-up Sketch City to make it happen.

"At first we had a list of maybe 35/40 shelters. We were able to expand the list of shelters that were available to people to about 260."

And the response was overwhelming.

Dixon could see firsthand the impact his texting feature had, simply by logging onto Facebook.

"One woman commented she didn't want to travel to Houston for a shelter....It was a risk that she was not comfortable taking, and using this service helped her find the nearest shelter to her."

"Just knowing that just something that took very little time could actually have an impact on a bunch of people was really reassuring."

While it's too early to tell, Dixon says the texting feature has reached thousands of people and he hopes it will continue to grow.

He's working with Sketch City to develop another feature that gives folks access to bus routes to shelters via text.