Boston Puts Tech to Use in Ending Homelessness

Green River, a Cambridge-based software company, will build the web application for Mayor Martin Walsh’s action plan to end chronic and veteran homelessness.

The application will provide a way to match homeless people with housing opportunities and resources. Currently, every shelter in Boston has its own way of figuring out where the best place is for someone to go, depending on their needs and the openings. The software company hopes that by streamlining this process, chronically homeless people and homeless veterans will be able to find the right, longer-term housing. The platform will suggest options to caseworkers, providers and clients, and they can easily accept or reject the offers.

A committee of 19 city and shelter representatives unanimously selected Green River out of nine potential providers, according to Elizabeth Doyle, assistant director for supportive housing. “They were the most agile,” said Doyle. Agility is certainly built in to Green River’s plans. It believes in an iterative process and wants to get a minimum viable product in the hands of users as soon as possible. “If we go away for eight months and produce something, the likelihood of failure is too high,” said Ian Kozak, director of strategic development.

This bare-bones version should be released in April, and after that, the company will seek feedback to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong, releasing new versions as often as possible. The company is contracted through the end of the year. “It’s important that we listen,” said Michael Knapp, CEO. “We want to hear back. We want to make sure it’s working.

Additionally, it has to be working better than what’s already in place. Currently, every shelter or organization has its own method of figuring out where the best place is for someone to go, whether by calling around to see what organization has empty beds or a lottery system. However, the city hopes that by streamlining these systems, it can make sure that no one falls through the cracks and that veteran and chronic homelessness will end.

Homelessness isn’t the area of expertise for this company, and it’s honest about that, but it does have a track record of commitment to social justice. It has worked for Starbucks’ ethical sourcing and the U.S. Green Building Council. This motivation was an important part of its proposal. “Yes, we want to support our families and make a living, but using technology for social good, social justice is why we’re doing this,” said Knapp. “Our hunger to do that was clear.”

Green River is excited about the project but cautious. “We are learning the joys of politics: they pop the champagne when the contract is signed, but we’re used to popping the champagne when the system actually works and actually helps people,” said Kozak.

Adanya Lustig is an editorial intern at Spare Change News.

Adanya Lustig is an editorial intern at Spare Change News.

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