Systems Planning Collective logoThis blog is part of a monthly series by the Systems Planning Collective to support communities in all their systems planning priorities. Stay tuned for next month's blog!


Have you mused lately about how your efforts to prevent/end homelessness might benefit from the rapid advancements in technology underway? 

If so, look no further. We’ve curated a diverse list of Innovations in Social Technology (AKA InnSoTech) to inspire your next hackathon 

1. Poverty Stoplight

The Poverty Stoplight is a visual survey, developed in conjunction with Hewart Packard, that helps families living in poverty in Paraguay self-assess their level of poverty on 50 indicators across six dimensions using a smartphone or tablet. Indicates are those such as Income & Employment, Health & Environment, Housing & Infrastructure, Education & Culture, Organization & Participation, and Interiority & Motivational. 

Each indicator is defined as Red (extreme poverty), Yellow (poverty), or Green (not poverty). It gives people a chance to take stock of their situation through a dashboard visualization and then families create a customized plan with the help of existing resources in the community.

2. Four Directions Financial

Located in Edmonton, Alberta, Four Directions Financial provides mainstream bank services for those experiencing homelessness or low-income people through biometric identification (finger print, retina scan). 

The trend of ‘banking the poor’ is a world wide phenomena: just check out how quickly countries in Africa and Asia have gotten people access to internet and financial products.  

3. HelpSeeker

HelpSeeker is a web-based platform that helps communities map the hundreds of services that operate in the homelessness ecosystem to support systems planning and design efforts. It uses Open Data to curate resources, and then generates an easy to use app for users to better navigate these resources. The backend for decision makers provides real-time data in custom dashboards. 

Full disclosure alert: I’m a co-founder! 

4. Using Big Data to Predict Homelessness

SumAll Foundation, in collaboration with a local non-profit organization, CAMBA, has created a project in NYC where they use Big Data to look at the risk of becoming homeless for families facing eviction. 

Using data from NYC’s Department of Homeless Services and predictive analytics, SumAll created an algorithm, which allowed them to detect which families were at risk of homelessness upon eviction. Through data visualization tools, SumAll alerts social workers and other advocates so that preventative action can be taken.

5. Stanford’s Virtual Reality Lab

Stanford is undergoing a study called Empathy at Scale which uses a virtual reality medium to put participants in various scenes to help them imagine the experience of homelessness. The project seeks to test interventions that teach empathy. 

6. WeCount

WeCount, based in Seattle Washington, is an app that allows homeless people to safely ask for items they need while providing a way for people to donate directly. Anyone can sign up; users choose if they want to donate or receive help. 

People can request help from several categories: outdoor gear, home goods, personal care items, children’s needs and essential clothing. Donors can view specific requests from homeless people and give gently used items to match these requests. From here, a safe, public drop off site is set up.

7. DoNotPay Chatbot

Originally started as an AI chatbot to help people get out of parking tickets in the United Kingdom, it now helps homeless people and refugees with free legal aid. The chatbot asks users a series of questions to figure out the best way to help them. It then takes the information and drafts a claim letter saving people hundreds of dollars in legal fees. It has been developed in consultation with lawyers to craft responses specific for homeless people.

And if you like the idea of bots, check out the beta version of ChalmersBot in Toronto. 

8. PSINET Algorithm   

Created by a team of social workers and computer scientists, the algorithm called PSINET helps organizations identify the best person in a particular homeless population to spread HIV prevention information amongst young people based on a mapped-out network of friendships. The use of PISNET demonstrated an increase of 60% more information spread than typical efforts. 

9. The Borgen Project    

App developers have been utilizing augmented reality (AR) to deliver information more frequently since the arrival of Pokemon Go. Nonprofits could easily tap into AR’s potential by combining the virtual world with the real world and creating an immersive and interactive experience about a particular social issue. For example, the tech could superimpose a real-time image of Rwandan streets onto a New York intersection, giving the user a look into Rwanda’s conditions. 

Did we miss something great? 

It's hard to keep up with all the innovation - tweet me @AlinaITurner.  


Systems Planning Collective logoThe Systems Planning Collective is led by A Way Home CanadaCanadian Observatory on Homelessness and Turner Strategies and is dedicated to helping communities and governments to prevent and end all forms of homelessness in Canada by supporting evidence-based systems planning, capacity building and technical assistance.

Alina TurnerCEO and PrincipalTurner Strategies