Describe an Opportunity Where You Think Data Science Can Be Used for Social Impact

Recently I was asked to describe how data science can be used for social impact and I wanted to share my answer. Would love your thoughts and how you would answer the same question!

The Problem:
There is no justifiable reason for the existence of youth homelessness, and yet about two million youth a year will suffer through the consequences of housing instability in the United States (Ringwalt et al., 1998). This statistic is likely an underestimate due to the inconsistent definitions used to identify a homeless youth person, the transient nature of the homeless, and the lack of probability based researched on this population. Although there are several resources available to this population (e.g. shelters, food banks, free clinics), there is a lack of a centralized platform that integrates the homeless youth with the myriad of agencies that want to help these youth become independent and productive citizens. This lack of communication inadvertently inhibits effective utilization of necessary resources.

The Opportunity:
According to scientific literature, about 60% of the homeless youth in Southern California own a cell phone and 80% have access to the Internet at least once per day (Rice, Lee, & Taitt, 2011). From my own experience working with programs that serve the homeless (e.g. YouthHope.org, Glide.org Foundation, St. Anthony Foundation), it is evident that smart phones (typically Android devices) are a critical commodity among the homeless youth. Therefore, mobile technology is an extremely viable opportunity to use data science to reduce incidence and prevalence of youth homelessness.

Potential Solution:
A mobile application can be designed for the underserved youth (currently, the only available mobile applications are tailored for social workers or volunteers who want to provide aid to the homeless community). This platform will enable youth serving agencies to send push notifications and incentives to users regarding available resources by geolocation.

The data captured from this application has the potential to add to the epidemiologic profile of youth homelessness and monitor episodes of homelessness. The data can be used to drive solutions to help end homelessness, as well as provide the support necessary to receive funding for homeless-serving agencies.

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