How technology is helping cities help their homeless

Wed, 2014-12-03 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

In the Danish city of Odense, public officials outfitted homeless volunteers with GPS trackers to get a better idea of how they move around town. The objective is to provide services – shelters, benches and the like – where they are most needed. According to The Local, the tracking system is similar to those used by care facilities to track dementia patients.

The Odense pilot is one of many ways that technology is being put to work to help those "socially marginalized" as one city council member put it. There are others.

Ending homelessness in LA
Public and private organizations in Los Angeles County – dubbed America's homeless capital with some 52,000 sleeping on the streets every night, according to Governing – are hoping a computerized system that links the homeless to social services will reduce that number.

The Chamber of Commerce, L.A. Housing Authority and others are putting up $213 million to pay for a new one-stop web portal and housing vouchers. The idea is case workers will seek out and evaluate homeless individuals and enter data about their physical and mental condition into the portal. What organizers are calling a coordinated entry system will streamline each individual's path to assistance using a "housing first" model designed to keep the chronically homeless out of jails, shelters and hospitals.

Solar arrays save Kansas City shelter money
A three-year alliance between Council Associate Partner Black & Veatch and Brightergy to implement solar projects around the Kansas City area has already seen solar arrays planted atop five building used by the city's homeless shelter. It's expected to save the City Union Mission about $400,000 in energy costs over the next 20 years, according to the Kansas City Business Journal – money that can be used for other purposes.

Belfast app helps the public help vulnerable neighbors
In Belfast, an app that encourages the public to help tackle homelessness in their neighborhoods is reportedly the first of its kind in the UK. The Support in My Own Neighbourhood (SIMON) app, says the Belfast Telegraph, provides direct access to the homeless person or provides information to the public concerned about individuals in their neighborhood. It has five tabs showing the location of services ranging from hostels to food banks. It was launched recently by Simon, a Northern Ireland homeless charity.

“This app empowers all of us, individually and collectively, to help those who, for whatever reason, are without a roof over their heads," said Anne Sweeney, a housing executive.

Meanwhile at a recent Startup Weekend in Portland, Oregon, the winning PDX Shelter team built a mobile website with a mapping tool that aims to serve both the homeless and local shelters by making information available about the number of beds, whether dogs are accepted, shower availability, etc. According to an account in the Portland Business Journal, the PDX Shelter team found that a growing number of the homeless population have smartphones. Shelter officials noted that while they may not have data plans, they can access the Internet via community WiFi.

You might also want to read…
Gimme shelter, please! The homeless challenge cities face
How Africa is using technology to curb youth unemployment
MasterCard case study: Toronto’s benefits card -- doing more with less


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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