Unlike many of the cities making advancements in reducing homelessness via tech, Asheville, N.C., is doing so primarily with the aid of nonprofit volunteers, rather than only doing so within city government.
Code for Asheville, a Code for America brigade, recently began working with the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Coalition after noting it had little to no Web presence. Code for Asheville is now working to change that. Jesse Michel and Patrick Conant, a pair of business partners who run PRC Applications and donate 20 percent of company time to community projects, are spearheading this effort.
One of the takeaways for both Conant and Michel throughout has been that digital expertise cannot effectively combat homelessness unless technologists interact with outreach workers, learning their challenges, needs and concerns.
Conant said spending time with the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Coalition created a significant shift of focus for his work, as well as that of Code for Asheville, which he was a co-captain of at the time.
“I was still captain at the start of 2016 when we started going to the coalition meetings, and that really marked a lot of the shift for me, and for Code for Asheville in general,” said Conant, “going from a group that was a bunch of techies sitting in a room figuring out what to work on to an organization that went out into the community and connected with people already doing good work, figuring out how our tech and data expertise could help them with what they’re doing.”
By spending time with the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Coalition, they heard about problems that ex-convicts were having while trying to re-enter society, specifically that there was no centralized place for them to get information such as which temporary housing programs will accept people with their criminal histories. To rectify this, and other gaps in information for ex-cons, a group often vulnerable to homelessness, Code for America created a simple solution: a WordPress site. Now, the 200 organizations within the homeless coalition can easily access related info, and work is underway with coders in Greensboro, N.C., to bring the site statewide.
Another part of the work they’ve done involves connecting BeLoved House, a homeless advocacy community, to digital resources, including helping them establish a community computer lab to foster digital inclusion among the population. A member of Code for Asheville, Jim March, now makes a weekly visit to BeLoved House to check in on progress.
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