Could artificial intelligence help end homelessness?

Homeless camp in Berlin, next to government district
A homeless camp in Berlin next to the government district.

A new artificial intelligence (AI)-based tool aims to help homeless people find homes and ensure that applicants are treated fairly.

The tool, tested in California by the USC Center for AI in Society (CAIS), aims to reduce racial bias when it comes to finding housing.

The AI tool helps to gauge the severity of people's needs and their vulnerability, with researchers identifying 19 questions that would most accurately predict future adverse events for a client and their likelihood of exiting homelessness.

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How can AI help homeless people?

The tool uses AI to improve the way people are treated, and help them find housing by using a data prediction model linking existing administrative data from the County of Los Angeles to work out future adverse outcomes.

The researchers say that this means that people with the greatest needs will be put to the front of the queue. In testing, the model improved the fairness, efficiency, and transparency of the system all at the same time.

Researchers worked with the community advisory board to help them reword the questions to be sensitive to the experiences of trauma and racism common to people experiencing homelessness.

The scientists also recommended guidelines for administering the tool in ways that could reduce client stress during the intake process and increase the probability that housing representatives could capture accurate information about their vulnerability and needs.

Why is racism a problem for homeless people?

Black people account for 7.6% of Los Angeles County's overall population, but they represent 31.7% of the estimated 75,000 people in the county experiencing homelessness, based on the 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.

Racism is a problem for homeless people – including implicit bias in the selection of who is prioritised for a home.

Project leader Eric Rice, a professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, said: "We've made an important step forward for Los Angeles in addressing the really challenging social problems of racial bias and homelessness, and we've done it in a way that is both technologically innovative and driven by the values of the community.

"We have a long way to go to solve homelessness. But we're doing something to make for a more equitable, fair, and community-driven process that will help to serve people experiencing homelessness – no matter who they are – in a more thoughtful and meaningful way."