Thursday, January 2, 2020

Computers predict who'll become homeless

David Wagner ( News, 12/18/19); Dr. Drew Pinsky (KOMO News); Pat Harvey (CBSN Los Angeles/KTLA, Channel 5); Seth Auberon, Pfc. Sandoval, CC Liu (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

Los Angeles County is working with UCLA researchers to predict who's likely to become homeless to target prevention efforts (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via
Can computer modeling predict who will become homeless? LA County is betting on it
What if you live in a van down by the river?
Los Angeles County plans to use a new computer modeling tool to predict who is about to become homeless.

The goal is to identify people on the edge and then reach out with financial aid and other help to keep them in their homes.

"We will be complementing existing programs with proactive efforts to identify and reach out to, at this point, single adults who we've identified as at greater risk of becoming homeless," said Phil Ansell, director of the L.A. County Homeless Initiative, which oversees homeless funding raised through Measure H.

Hollywood sign (
Officials detailed their new prevention plan this week: A special county prevention unit, armed with $3 million in funding and a mission to reduce the number of people joining the nearly 60,000 who are already homeless across L.A. County.

Predicting homelessness is easier said than done. Nearly 2 million single adults are receiving various public services in L.A. County. In theory, many of them are the kind of poor and precariously housed people who could easily spiral into homelessness after one missed paycheck, medical emergency or other financial shock.

But less than 2% of those county clients actually become homeless in any given year. The challenge is to pinpoint who's at greatest risk of losing their home in order to decide how best to spend limited prevention funds.

UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center
That's what led researchers with the California Policy Lab at UCLA to develop a new predictive model that aims to pick up on the risk patterns that human service providers can't always see on their own.

Researchers say local governments stand to save money in the long run if small amounts of short-term help can successfully keep people out of shelters and off the streets.

KTLA News Anchor Pat Harvey voices documentary investigation of LA homelessness (CBS Los Angeles)

"What we're really trying to do is to get to more people sooner, with a less expensive intervention that changes the course of their life," said Janey Rountree, executive director of the California Policy Lab at UCLA.

Just dirty men and addicts go homeless, right?
The researchers built their model using data on current clients of various county programs, such as welfare and G.R. (CalFresh and General Relief).

After combing through millions of service records from 2012 through 2016, the researchers came up with a list of the 3,000 clients they thought had the highest risk of becoming homeless in 2017.

When they compared their findings with a list of people who actually became homeless in 2017, they found that their predictions were correct nearly half the time (46 percent, to be exact).

The researchers say that's a pretty strong result, given the complexity of predicting homelessness. Those who ended up on the list were 27 times more likely to become homeless than the average user of county services. More

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