What it does
Advocate fundamentally transforms how St. Louis residents will discover and receive city services by providing access to a human operator equipped to respond to a variety of requests from disadvantaged populations. The goal is to prevent and end homelessness by connecting at-risk individuals, people experiencing homelessness and those recently housed with our trained volunteers for free (no messaging costs to users); 24/7. Our operators will be empowered by an accurate data set of detailed information on human service providers in STL to route clients to confirmed resources: helping them utilize emergency shelters, receive utility assistance, handle landlord disputes, procure food, take advantage of legal aid, enter rehabilitation facilities, enroll in government assistance, and more.
How we built it
Our project consists of two applications: ‘counselor’, our front-end case management solution (Ruby on Rails, Postgresql) and ‘counselor-bridge’ (elixir), a real-time gateway that’s easily scalable to millions for dispatching SMS communications via Twilio. https://github.com/tpitale/counselor https://github.com/tpitale/counselor-bridge
Challenges we ran into
Understanding the complexities around the homelessness problem was quite a obstacle. To compound this, data regarding homelessness can be disparate and inaccurate. We focused our initial efforts to understanding both the complex issue of homelessness in St Louis, as well as understanding the data we were provided.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
In 36 short hours, we were able to brainstorm a concept, create a set of important features, and build out not only a fully functional prototype, but also the business case for why we see Advocate as a big piece of solving homelessness in the United States.
What we learned
The homeless population is not homogeneous. It is important that any solution incorporate this fact and ensure that different sub-sets of people are served. Our vision is that human-powered Advocate will be able to do just that.
What's next for Advocate
We are very excited to continue work on Advocate in the coming weeks and months. Our application and bridge gateway service are ready to be launched and scaled. However, our service operators are the lifeblood of Advocate. We hope to obtain grant funding and in partnership with a homeless advocacy organization, train a team of skilled volunteers that will be empowered by our technology. As we, and many of our fellow participants have discovered, data quality is a huge issue in this space. While we were able to model our data appropriately, we would like to invest additional time to building out our data set of local resource providers.