Canada is facing an escalating homelessness challenge, and in the struggle against this societal crisis, a new ally has emerged: artificial intelligence (AI). Numerous organizations and government agencies throughout the country are harnessing AI’s predictive capabilities to comprehend trends in homelessness and craft precise strategies.
AI’s role in combating homelessness largely revolves around predictive algorithms. These algorithms scrutinize extensive datasets to anticipate future trends in homelessness and pinpoint individuals at risk. This enables policymakers and service providers to distribute resources more effectively and enact preventive measures.
Tim Richter, President of the Canadian Alliance to Ending Homelessness (CAEH), underscores AI’s potential in tailoring preventive actions for individuals. For instance, city planners could employ AI to determine suitable housing types and rent levels across different neighborhoods, aiming to prevent homelessness.
In London, Ontario, a city grappling with a surge in homelessness, AI has become a crucial tool. Craig Cooper, Director of Housing Stability Services at the City of London, observed a doubling in shelter users amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
To tackle this crisis, London implemented an AI algorithm in 2021. This algorithm relies on a by-name list to estimate an individual’s likelihood of becoming chronically homeless based on their circumstances. While this AI tool offers valuable insights, Cooper acknowledges the persistent challenge of insufficient housing availability.
AI has also been deployed to predict homelessness trends on a national scale. By analyzing data from multiple municipalities—such as shelter usage, estimates of hidden homelessness, inflation patterns, unemployment rates, and housing inventory—AI algorithms forecast regions prone to increased homelessness.
Alina Turner, CEO of HelpSeeker, used AI to project post-COVID homelessness trends. Her team flagged areas like Metro Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area, anticipating a sharp rise in homelessness.
Despite its potential, AI isn’t a cure-all for homelessness. Challenges persist, primarily surrounding data collection and accuracy. Homelessness is multifaceted, and certain individuals may not be accounted for in AI algorithms—those couch-surfing or evading government programs. Furthermore, inconsistencies in data collection methods across municipalities hinder establishing a standardized, comprehensive dataset for AI analysis.
It’s vital to understand that AI serves as a tool, not a standalone solution. While it offers valuable insights and predictions, addressing homelessness necessitates holistic, human-centric approaches. AI should complement the endeavors of governments and organizations but should not substitute the crucial human support required to aid vulnerable individuals.