Ian Kozak

City of Boston Homeless Application

Last year, Mayor Marty Walsh launched an ambitious, aggressive plan to end veteran and chronic homelessness in Boston (Action Plan 2015-2018). And this month, Green River signed a contract with the City of Boston to develop a system that should help achieve that goal: a web-based application to track specific available permanent housing opportunities, and provide a mechanism for finding those chronic homeless individuals most likely to successfully benefit long term by them.

Coincidently, just as Boston was putting out a press release announcing our contract, a tech worker wrote an open letter to the San Francisco mayor complaining about the homeless "riff raff" in that city: S.F. ‘tech bro’ writes open letter to mayor: ‘I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people’. The contrast in attitude of our "tech industry" didn't go unnoticed by Boston.com, Boston partnering with Vermont tech firm to combat homelessness. Which makes all of us at Green River extra proud to be working on the project!

Below is the City of Boston's original press release – it garnered a nice snippet on WBUR's Morning Edition Friday.

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MAYOR WALSH ANNOUNCES VENDOR FOR HOMELESS COORDINATED ACCESS SYSTEM

Green River to build platform to help connect homeless with housing

BOSTON - DATE - Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced today that the City has selected Green River as the vendor to create a new Coordinated Access platform to streamline Boston’s approach to helping homeless individuals access housing and services.  This technology is a key deliverable on the Walsh Administration’s Action Plan To End Chronic Homelessness Among Individuals in Boston. The federal government defines a person experiencing chronic homelessness as an individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

Green River, a technology firm based in Brattleboro, VT and Cambridge, MA, has been tasked with building a web-based application that will provide a unified site where housing providers can share available opportunities, such as housing units, programs, and vouchers, and will enable City housing navigators to easily suggest and communicate those opportunities to homeless individuals.  The company was selected from a pool of nine potential providers who responded to a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by the City in November.

“This new, innovative platform will give us the tools to build on the hard work of our providers, and better serve Boston’s homeless individuals,” said Mayor Walsh. “To reach our goals of ending chronic homelessness for good, we must think creatively.”

“Boston has a phenomenal network of providers, staffed by hardworking people who dedicate their lives to our city, and the now we have the opportunity to build on their work to better serve Boston’s homeless individuals,” said Mayor Walsh. “Launching this new innovative system will give us the tools to reach our goal to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2018.”

"Green River is honored to be a part of Boston's revolutionary effort to redefine homelessness as something other than a state of being,” said Michael Knapp, CEO of Green River. “This project is so clearly in line with our desire of use technology to  make effective, positive change in the world.  We look forward to using our software development and analytics expertise to help Boston end chronic homelessness.”

Currently, subsidized housing resources and data about Boston’s homeless individuals are scattered across many different agencies and systems, and the process to access this information can be difficult to navigate. Without cohesive information sharing, using a system that determines, enforces, and streamlines which individuals should be prioritized for the next available subsidized unit, it is possible for individuals with the highest barriers to stability to remain homeless longer than necessary.

The new system will be designed to be simple to use, and will integrate these disparate data sources and resources.  The Coordinated Access System (CAS) will provide an easy-to-use interface for housing providers and staff to input information about available housing units, assistance programs, and wait lists.

The CAS will also be able to pull details about homeless individuals from the City’s existing Homeless Management Information Service, and will include a tool for housing navigators to match at risk and chronically homeless people with those housing options.  In addition, the platform will have a mechanism to notify caseworkers, providers, and clients which options have been suggested; a simple means for those offers to be accepted or rejected.

To ensure the system works as productively as possible, Green River staff, including user experience designers, interface developers, and systems engineers, will collaborate closely with Boston to understand their workflows and processes, and iteratively design and fine tune the critical aspects of the application."

The system will use machine learning to improve itself.  As the CAS collects more details about housing offers that worked, the algorithm will begin to detect patterns and to build correlations with successful suggestions.  For example, proximity to a given individual’s employment opportunities or family members could be important attributes.

A pilot iteration of the application is expected to launch in April 2016 with continued refinements to the tool to follow.