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Identity House

Identity House is an all-volunteer membership organization that provides peer counseling, therapy referrals, and support groups for the LGBTQ community. The group was formed in 1971 during the emerging Gay Rights movement. Shed helped them update their internal workflows and tools to cater to a new generation of clients with a custom app.

When Identity House began, it operated out of one dedicated space, but due to rising New York rents, it now operates as a network of members who rent space as needed for different activities. Most clients are served through the Walk-In Center, which operates from two locations. Each session at the Walk-In Center ends in a referral for clients who come seeking help, to therapists, other counselors, support groups, or local resources. Counselors had previously been using large binders to look up the best referral. These binders were cumbersome to update, since Identity House only had access to them at certain hours. To make matters worse, the weekend Walk-In Center location instituted a new policy that prevented Identity House from storing materials there. It was clear they needed a digital solution that allowed updates to be made remotely and peers to access the manual from their smartphone or other device.

We began by taking an inventory of the resources contained in the binders. Identity House formed a committee to collect and transcribe the material into shared documents, where it could be copied and pasted into a new database. The material was consolidated into a four data models: three types of internal resources, and a more general one for external resources. Shed sought input from the committee for what fields to include in each data model, and developed an admin interface that allowed members to submit and edit information themselves, with different levels of access. This allowed each therapist member to fill in their own detailed profile, which included specialties, insurances taken, rates, and availability, and edit their profile when needed. The admin panel allowed the referral information to be accurate and up-to-date, with minimal labor from Identity House's small group of volunteers.

The next step was to design an app that allowed peers to quickly locate the correct referral at the Walk-In Center.

The project provided two challenges for Shed: budget and member buy-in. Identity House is a small group that gets most of its operating budget from member dues and client donations. Although there was a lot we wanted to do with the new app, we started with what was most needed, and presented it to Identity House as a foundation that could be built upon over time. We included sections of the admin panel in the first phase with the intention of being used for features added to the the app in the future, and that turned out to be successful. Each member of Identity House would have their own profile, which included an email address, unique password, and contact information. When we launched, peers could only access the app on iPads stored at the Walk-In Centers. A year later, we we made the app accessible over the web with a login. Since members had created passwords early on, this was an easy transition, and Identity House was able to continue serving clients uninterrupted when the weekend Walk-In Center location stopped allowing them to store the iPad. Shortly thereafter, we added a roster to the app, where members could view each others' contact information, pronouns, and other details. Because the architecture was in place, the roster already had the data it needed to be useful.