Recently, Alex and I decided to write an open letter to the mayor of Boston urging him to adopt methods (that other cities have used successfully) to help the indigent citizens of our town.
Dear Mayor Walsh,
Massachusetts has always prided itself on being a place of firsts: the birthplace of the Revolutionary War, the epicenter of abolitionism, and the first state to allow same-sex marriage.Having moved to Cambridge a few years ago from North Carolina, I am struck by how vibrant the city is, with its many universities, museums, and technology intensive companies. It is clear that the Boston area has many opportunities to offer, however, not all of its citizens are able to benefit.
Currently, there are around 1.75 million homeless people in the United States, with an average monthly income of $348 . Families with children constitute 36% of the homeless population and 62% are members of minority groups .In Boston alone, the homeless population is around 7,000, of which over 2,000 are children .
We believe that Boston can take a facts-driven approach to alleviating homelessness by learning and improving upon the strategies of other cities.For example, a California based nonprofit organization called “Downtown Streets Team”  helps beautify urban streets and nature trails with help from the homeless population.In return, graduates of the program receive non-cash stipends and job and housing placement assistance.Since its inception, the organization has enabled 366 team members to remain employed for 90 days or more and graduates have earned almost $3 Million dollars since 2011.
Most notably, there has been a 14% decline in the homeless population in Santa Clara county, a 50% reduction in crime in Palo Alto between 2005-2013, and a 75% reduction in panhandling in Palo Alto between 2005-2013.
Recently, researchers at Vanderbilt University build a computer model that can enhance human social service profiling. They found that their software could reduce the number of families turned away who later become homeless, by two-thirds . We can leverage our educated populace totarget at-risk people and keep them from becoming homeless.With the proliferation of Big Data, we could utilize demographic data gathered on a very detailed, local level and deduce where the homeless population is concentrated.This would enable us to more efficiently direct our limited resources to where they are needed most.
In conclusion, there are many different methods available to a world-class city such as our own which could have a measurable impact on the lives of all Bostonians, who will benefit from our cleaner, more beautiful city while at the same time helping better the lives of our most at-risk population.
Michael Sollami Ph.D.
Alexandru Bacanu, MIT Ph.D. Candidate