Grants: Smartphone App for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) was awarded $75,000 in FY 2016 to develop and pilot a mobile phone application (“the app”) that will give homeless youth in Chicago real-time information about nearby health services, emergency shelter, and a variety of other services key to their survival and progress.  CCH will develop the app in conjunction with Young Invincibles (YI), a national organization with a Chicago office and an impressive track record of successfully applying modern technology to help solve healthcare access and delivery issues for young people.

CCH and YI conducted focus groups with service providers and young adults experiencing homelessness to better understand the gaps that might be filled by the app.  At these groups it was conveyed that existing resources were outdated, incomplete, and not youth-friendly, and there is a clear need for a “go-to” resource like the proposed app, that could describe available services in an accessible and timely way. Featured in the app will be two core functions identified by the groups as especially important to their health: real-time data about availability of beds at shelters on any given night, and key facts about area Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) including proximity, cost and types of services provided. In addition to those core functions, the app will also provide information about resources including storage availability, legal services, education and job placement services, food programs and emergency contacts such as the National Runaway Safeline.

The overall goal of the app is to empower young adults by giving them the knowledge to access resources to improve their health and well-being, thereby decreasing the isolation and sense of hopelessness experienced by many precariously housed young adults, and, ultimately, helping to position them for transition out of homelessness.  In addition to benefiting homeless youth, however, the app will also benefit providers by streamlining databases to make it simpler for them to convey information about their services both to their target audience and fellow providers. The pilot version of the app will be ready to download late this summer, and will be used by at least 210 homeless youth as well as about 90 service providers and policymakers/community members.

Update 09/08/16

The app is currently in a beta testing phase to ensure all functions are working properly before it is widely promoted to youth on the streets. Given the project’s progress, the VNA Board of Directors renewed its commitment to the app by awarding a planned two year grant to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Young Invincibles, in the amount of $100,000 for FY 17, and $80,000 in FY 18.

Update 05/22/19

Since launching in the fall of 2016, the mobile app version of StreetLight Chicago has been downloaded over 2,930 times, surpassing most apps’ performance.

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Update 11/01/19

Young Invincibles and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) were recognized with a 2019 Chicago Innovation Award for their development and management of StreetLight Chicago, a smartphone app for housing insecure youth.

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Other information about the app:

CCH’s Youth Futures Legal Clinic to help develop a mobile phone app for use by homeless youth and providers