For Dulce Volantin, a single phone call can change lives; that call was a lifeline she didn’t see coming. Dulce and her partner, Valarie Zayas, lived close to Venice Beach in Los Angeles, a small place unlike the fancy LA homes most people think of. Their story is one of romance emerging from turbulent backgrounds. They had a touching story of finding love after facing many challenges, including dealing with gangs. Dulce had mental health problems, and Valarie was trying hard to find a job. They were apprehensive about becoming homeless.
However, a call from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services offered a glimmer of hope. This was no ordinary check-in. Instead, Los Angeles was planning a groundbreaking strategy to tackle homelessness by forecasting it through the power of artificial intelligence (AI).
Dana Vanderford, spearheading the Homelessness Prevention unit, likens the situation to a “bucket with a hole in it.” While the existing measures help refill the bucket, the underlying problems remain unaddressed, causing it to keep draining.
The introduction of the AI program aims to seal that leak. It’s an ambitious venture. Collating data from numerous county agencies, from emergency room stats to sign-ups for food aid, the program employs machine learning to generate a list of individuals on the brink of losing their homes.
But data is just the starting point. Humanity fills in the gaps. Elizabeth Juarez, one of the 16 dedicated case managers, understands that while AI can hint at potential homelessness, it takes a human touch to convert these leads into tangible help. This task isn’t straightforward; many are skeptical or have already succumbed to despair by the time they’re reached.
When Juarez finally connects, she doesn’t just offer assistance—she paints a future where $4,000 to $6,000 will fend off impending instability. Whether paying off payday loan debts, providing e-bikes, or ensuring food is on the table, the goal is holistic well-being.
Ricky Brown’s journey is a good example. At 65, Ricky’s already unstable financial position was thrown into turmoil when he unexpectedly became the sole guardian of his three grandsons following the sudden death of his ex-wife. The burden of added responsibilities made his modest apartment in LA’s Crenshaw district feel overwhelmingly cramped. Fred Theus, a county case manager, stepped in to weave a support system for Ricky and his family, showing that the direst situations can be averted with the proper assistance. Despite the complexities and the constant race against time, Fred stands as Ricky’s beacon of hope in challenging times.
This AI-driven program, now two years into its implementation, has already helped over 560 individuals. Many have managed to retain their homes, indicating the initiative’s promise. But its real success lies not just in the present but in the longevity of its impact. Plans for a comprehensive randomized control trial Nanaimo objectively assesses the program’s efficacy by comparing participant outcomes against non-participants.
Janey Rountree of the California Policy Lab at UCLA emphasizes the need for discernment. “When millions seem vulnerable, pinpointing the 1% to 2% who might access homelessness is critical,” she explains.
By 2026, we’ll have a clearer picture of the initiative’s long-term efficacy. But even now, LA’s endeavor is setting precedents, with San Diego County gearing up for a similar venture.
Dulce and Valarie’s present circumstances vividly illustrate the transformative potential of this program. They now have a happy home filled with good memories. A special phone call started their journey to a better life. This shows how using technology and caring for people can work together. It’s not just about stopping a bad situation but creating a brighter future for everyone.