The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced the winner of a mobile application competition designed to make local assistance resources accessible to people helping homeless Veterans and others in need. The winner of the $25,000 prize was Reston, Va.-based Qbase, which developed “Homeless REACH.” VA’s Center for Innovation (VACI) sponsored the competition, called Project REACH (Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and Homeless), in collaboration with the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services.
“This contest tapped into a community of software developers who rose to the challenge to use mobile and information technology in support of our mission–to better serve Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “The result is a robust and scalable tool for caregivers, social workers, and anyone who wants to help homeless Veterans access the support and physical care they need.”
The Obama Administration has made ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 a top priority, undertaking an unprecedented campaign partnering with HUD and hundreds of community organizations to dramatically increase awareness of VA services available for homeless Veterans and Veterans at risk of becoming homeless. This cooperation has helped reduce the estimated number of homeless Veterans living on our streets by nearly 17 percent, since 2009.
“We’ve come to rely on smartphones and tablets to access information and now we can apply this same technology to help people find a place to sleep or direct them to medical and other vital services,” said Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan. “This mobile app represents another high-impact collaboration between HUD, VA, and key partners in our shared effort to end Veteran homelessness in 2015.”
Project REACH sought creative and cost-efficient ways to use open data from VA, other government agencies and the private sector to locate valuable resources for the homeless in any locality across the country.
VA and its partners announced the five finalists at Health Datapalooza in Washington, D.C. on June 5, 2012. They were: Binary Group, Arlington, Va., who developed “Homeless Connections; John McCarthy, Forest Hills, N.Y., with “Reachous”; J.J.AppCo., with “Hero”; Makani Kai Tech, of Kihei, Hawaii, with “Help Beacon”; and Qbase’s app. The finalists were given time to improve their apps based on feedback from beta testers volunteering at Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, N.J.
“The origins of Project REACH stemmed from the visible need for a simple, user-friendly, comprehensive application that would allow us to direct our Soul Kitchen diners to other resources in the community. Thanks to the VA, HUD, HHS and the contest participants, we now have the application ‘Homeless REACH’ which will aid resource providers and communities around the country in helping those in need,” said Jon Bon Jovi, musician and chairman of the JBJ Soul Foundation.
“VA appreciates the great work of our partners in the project and the commitment made by talented people to address one of the nation’s most important challenges,” said Jonah Czerwinski, director of VACI. “This will make a big difference in the lives of people who need help.”
“Homeless REACH” received the highest score from judges who evaluated the five finalist submissions based on factors such as sustainability, scalability and completeness of information made available to people helping Veterans and others experiencing homelessness. The winning app provides easy access to essential information about health care, housing, employment and counseling, among other vital services, through the use of advanced mobile technology. “Homeless REACH” can be downloaded for free through the Android Market and the App Store.