Coders begin developing tool to help St. Louis nonprofits find housing for the homeless
Two St. Louis homeless service providers are teaming up to find rental homes for people who need a bit of help getting back into permanent housing.
Irene Agustin of The Bridge said her agency and St. Patrick Center have ironed out the details of the partnership and are hoping to start the program this fall after their applications for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development comes through.
“We know this is the way to go,” Agustin said. “The ultimate form of dignity for anybody is to get them back into their home.”
Currently The Bridge operates a day shelter and St. Patrick Center offers a variety of health, employment and housing services. But this new partnership will focus on finding apartments for a segment of the homeless population that doesn’t need long-term, intensive support — an effort called “rapid rehousing.”
“From what we have gathered, about 50 percent of people who are homeless have this level of need,” St. Patrick Center programs manager Judson Bliss said.
St. Patrick Center already offers a similar program for homeless veterans, and has developed a network of about 400 landlords they work with.
The type of support the nonprofits give the homeless in the new program will vary depending on need, but could include some financial support.
“Initially a month or two of rental assistance, security deposit, start-up utilities,” could be possible Agustin said. “And then we’d work with that individual to step them down to be able to take that on their own.”
“They would also receive support,” she added. “Because one of the things that we see if you just place people in housing two things happen if they don’t have the support: they either end up back at the shelter where they came from or they bring 10 or 15 of their friends into their home and then obviously they’re not going to be able to keep their housing.”
This weekend the nonprofits are enlisting the help of volunteer computer programmers to make it easier for them to know what apartments are available.
The goal is to provide The Bridge and St. Patrick with real-time data about what rental properties are available in the region.
“What we want to do (this weekend) is find those initial barriers and problems, ways in which tech and information can help resolve those problems, and get those solutions started,” Brett Lord-Castillo said. “Get prototypes developed, get the layout of the concept, get highly-talented tech volunteers connected to this problem to help St. Patrick and The Bridge move towards having this resolved in the future.”
Lord-Castillo works for St. Louis County as Geographic Information Systems programmer, but is volunteering his time this weekend as part of OpenData STL, a group of computer specialists that dedicate their spare time to community projects.
“It’s difficult when we’re assessing people’s issues, trying to get the right services in place, but then have to call landlords to figure out who has openings and who doesn’t have openings. And so the technology for this would be incredibly useful to social workers when we work with rapid rehousing because it cuts down on the time that we spend on the phone trying to identify who has openings and who doesn’t, and to be able to make those linkages happen a lot more quickly,” Agustin explained.
While still in the brainstorming stage, Lord-Castillo described what form the software or application could take. In laymen’s terms, it sounds like it could be a cross between Zillow and Google Maps tailored to meet the needs of the people it would serve. He live-streamed segments of Saturday’s brainstorming session so that coders who couldn’t make the planning in-person can take part in coming up with ideas and help build the software.
On Sunday the developers will present initial prototypes at Washington University. Once the technology is developed, the nonprofits and creators say they hope it can be used by other agencies in the region, and in other cities across the country.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.