Pittsburgh Police to test app made to link homeless people to services
March 19, 2016 12:05 AM
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Starting next month, some Pittsburgh Police officers will have information at the tips of their fingertips to help homeless people.
The officers will be testing an app that is being designed to provide homeless people with immediate connection to services such as food or shelter.
The app, called BigBurgh, is coming to fruition through the efforts of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, which has raised most of the $150,000 needed for the two-year pilot for the project.
It is being designed Robert Firth, president of Informing Design, who is donating his services to the effort.
The app will allow users to identify their age and gender and then use the touch screen to find venues for where they can access shelter, food, a place to shower or eat, medical help and other services.
It also allows users to identify if they are veterans, transgender or a family seeking services.
While the Homeless Children Education Fund’s goal was to create an app for homeless young adults, it will provide information on services for homeless individuals of all ages, said Joe Lagana, the founder and CEO of HCEF.
The plan is for the app to be available to the public in May if the test by police works well.
When users click on the icons that represent the various services, they will get a list of available agencies and their locations and contact information. The available services will show up on a list, with the closest ones appearing at the top, Mr. Firth said.
The app also will include a link for “live street help,” which will put users in touch with homeless outreach workers and volunteers who drive the streets at night to offer help to those in distress. Through that link, users will be able to start an immediate live chat with one of the outreach workers about their location and problem.
“I want this to be something that gets you what you need just when you need it,” Mr. Firth said.
The test model will start operating in April with a group of Pittsburgh Police officers who are part of a focus group helping to provide information for its design. Mr. Firth said the officers have been helpful in identifying what resources are needed to help the homeless population.
Also contributing to the project are the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and other advocacy groups for homeless poeple.
Mr. Firth said research has shown that 60 percent of homeless people have cell phones or smart phones and consider them their “lifelines.”
The app won’t be available in iTunes or Google Play because those services require a credit card to create an account. It will be available online at BigBurgh.com.
Pittsburgh Police Zone 2 Commander Anna Kudrov said she expects the app to help officers who regularly deal with the homeless “get quick access to resources.”
“It will improve police ability to respond quickly and well to the homeless community,” Cmdr. Kudrov said. “If we can get you what you need right away, it strengthens our relationship.”
Mr. Lagana raised funds for the pilot program through the Buncher Foundation, the Terry Serafini Family Foundation and the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation.
A the end of the two-year trial period, the hope is that an arm of local government -- city or county or both -- will pick up the continued cost, Mr. Lagana said.
Mr. Firth said that for the BigBurgh app to be effective, it’s connections must be kept up-to-date with current information. That requires staying in touch with the agencies who offer the services.
He said said San Francisco and Los Angeles have apps for the homeless, but that they are not as functional as he hopes the BigBurgh app will be.
Mary Niederberger; firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-1590. On Twitter @MaryNied.
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