How Municipalities are Using Tech to Prevent Homelessness in 2021

Why 25% of Canadian Municipal Governments incorporated tech solutions into their homelessness prevention strategies

In order to prevent homelessness in municipalities, experts recommend a 5 tiered approach that includes a variety of policies, practices, and interventions including

  • Structural prevention
  • Systems prevention
  • Early Interventions
  • Eviction Prevention
  • Housing security

To implement these strategies there needs to be strong cooperation between municipal governments, their social service ecosystems, and the communities most at risk of facing homelessness. One scalable way to do this is through the use of technology in homelessness prevention. We’ve highlighted 3 ways municipalities can reach at-risk residents with critical services before they fall into homelessness through the use of various tech innovations.

Structural prevention refers to policies and program investments that help reduce the risk of homelessness. Traditionally these have included strategies such as income supports, affordable housing stock, and anti discriminatory practices. Many cities such as the City of Toronto in Canada also have long term poverty reduction strategies that consider housing affordability. However, in order to ensure that municipalities are investing in effective programs and addressing the needs of their residents, there must be a way to measure and analyze their success at a neighbourhood level.

Currently this is measured through point in time (PIT) data with technology like HMIS or HIFIS software. HMIS is often used by frontline workers to survey populations and understand trends within chronic homelessness and why it occurs.

The effectiveness of PIT data however varies by region due to differences in implementation and often does not capture the challenges of those facing youth and hidden homelessness.With the rise of the current pandemic collecting this data has also become harder and in some cities nearly impossible.

Emerging technology solutions like Chalmers Enterprise are solving that problem by providing real time data dashboards that visualize data and service requests reported by everyone from front line staff to those facing homelessness themselves. These dashboards include data points such as service requests down to the postal code, demographic data, time of service request, and much more. Having real time grassroots data would allow policy makers to implement smarter, evolving practices to meet the needs of at risk communities (learn more about Chalmers enterprise here).

The second approach is systems prevention, which refers to removing barriers to access in navigating social service systems. Much of this work is done by front line staff and social workers. Along with surveying and the struggles of HMIS systems, frontline staff are also faced with another challenge, making referrals to the right programs for an individual in need.

Currently many social workers carry large index books with lists of available resources and services in the community. Unfortunately, these books are not user friendly when trying to find critical services for folks in tough situations and often become outdated creating more barriers to access.

One way cities can avoid this is by digitizing and frequently updating resource availability. Some cities are using a local 211 or 311 online directory to solve this problem. Similarly to the large index books however, these can take time to navigate. An evolving solution is the use of chatbots in social services. Generally these are live chats however there are solutions that can automate the service referral process. An example of this is Chalmers chatbot, an AI web based application used by everyone from social workers to police officers referring residents to services.

Of the 250K+ people using Chalmers to find services 32% are helping others and 16% are first responders or Social Service staff.

CEO Michael Braithwaite of Blue Door on Chalmers and our Community Partnerships

One of the most important parts of preventing homelessness is early intervention. These are services that are specifically designed to empower those who are most at-risk. Seeing as there are many stages of homelessness (hidden, transitional, chronic, etc.) reaching people early can allow them to more easily mitigate the risk of falling further down the funnel. Traditionally these services have included Family mediation, shelter diversion and case management.

There are however few accessible tools that allow people in tough situations to find the appropriate resources at this early stage. 90% of people turn to search engines like google for these answers however it can take anywhere between 45 minutes to 48 hours to find the appropriate critical resource (such as mental health, food, and shelter) on these platforms.

Chatbots like Chalmers are useful in this scenario as they are anonymous ways for people to ask for help and be referred to resources within seconds (learn more).

52% of Chalmers users are folks looking for help, using Chalmers as a tool to navigate the social service system.

These tech interventions are also useful in the final two tiers mentioned by prevention experts. Eviction Prevention ranges from rent subsidies and landlord agreements to legal aid. Information on both of these can be easily found through AI chatbots that agglomerate community data. Instead of searching on multiple sites for useful resources and information, someone at risk of becoming homeless can find what they need to remain in stable housing within just a few clicks.

Housing Stability refers to everything from accessing affordable housing to education, training, and health. These services are often inaccessible to marginalized communities and at risk groups. Chatbots would allow us to reach groups being left behind by traditional approaches such as youth and those facing hidden homelessness with housing stability resources.

Over 50% of Chalmers users were youth between 16–39 in 2020

With technology becoming increasingly useful to homelessness prevention, more governments have started incorporating both engagement and analytics tools into their strategies. Currently Chalmers and Ample Labs are partnered with 25% of Canadian municipal governments.To learn more about how your region or municipality can leverage technology visit www.amplelabs.co/chalmers or contact us here!

ample Labs is a social enterprise empowering those of us facing homelessness with technology. 👉 https://www.amplelabs.co