Rock star Jon Bon Jovi joined forces with the Department of Veterans Affairs Monday in challenging software developers to create mobile apps that can help homeless vets connect with services they need in real time and nearby.
Bon Jovi, who runs a community kitchen in New Jersey among his many philanthropic endeavors, is partnering with the federal government to launch an innovative idea that challenges private entrepreneurs to create a mobile apps to help a needy population.
This year’s 12% drop in veterans’ homelessness shows the results of President Obama’s and the whole administration’s commitment to ending veterans’ homelessness. I want to thank Jon Bon Jovi for being a part of that effort and for using competition and innovation to advance the cause of ending homelessness.” – Shaun Donovan
It’s called Project REACH (Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and the Homeless), and it is challenging the developer community to create easy, mobile access to resources the homeless need, when they need it and where they can get it.
“The concept is that we can access vets to instant and real time help via the internet. What better way to do that than through the minds of the tech community?,” said Bon Jovi (pictured above) in a conference call with reporters.
Bon Jovi is founder of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the lives of people facing economic challenges. The foundation runs The Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, N.J.
In addition to the VA, the other agencies involved in launching Project REACH include the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Bon Jovi said the mobile apps would be able to find a bed available the same night for a homeless veteran, locate affordable housing, find a job opening and direct the vet to a health care facility, among services that will be available via the mobile apps.
“I am very excited. We do really believe we can eradicate homelessness not only for vets but every American,” he said.
President Obama has vowed to end veteran homelessness by 2015. His administration has been working on a variety of projects to make that happen.
“This year’s 12% drop in veteran homelessness shows the results of President Obama’s and the whole administration’s commitment to ending Veterans homelessness,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, also on the call. “I want to thank Jon Bon Jovi for being a part of that effort and for using competition and innovation to advance the cause of ending homelessness.”
How the challenge works: Software developers are asked to develop mobile apps that help solve veterans’ homelessness. The apps will be used by community organizations, churches, social service agencies, individuals and even homeless veterans to connect with local services.
The goal of the contest is to create a national platform that enables health clinics, food kitchens, housing services and shelters to update availability of key services automatically on the Internet. The winning app will collect, map, and electronically distribute that information for communities across the nation, the VA said.
There’s a $10,000 stipend for semi-finalists and a $25,000 prize for the winner. Like other challenges the federal government has initiated since Obama took office, government officials believe that many high-tech companies – big names and start-ups in the tech community – will be attracted to participate.
The challenge is a classic example of government innovation tapping into technology to solve a problem. HUD, along with the VA, will provide data already in their systems that can be accessed by the successful app.
Aneesh Chopra, until recently the first federal Chief Technology Officer, also on the call, said this challenge is not “another government RFP.”
The federal government has been running these challenges since President Obama took office, he said.
There have been 150 challenges sponsored by every federal agency and the “response has been remarkable in every instance” without the promise of a big payout, Chopra said. “We’ve seen creativity. We’ve seen a lot of people who want to help.”
This project comes not a moment too soon for a population that needs help. One out of every six men and women in homeless shelters is a veteran, and veterans are 50 percent more likely to fall into homelessness compared to other Americans, the VA said.
The administration has adopted a formal “no wrong door” philosophy that means all veterans seeking to prevent or escape homelessness must have easy access to help.
With a concerted push, the VA has slowly been reducing the number of homeless veterans but it is still far too high, said W. Scott Gould, the VA’s deputy secretary.
“There are 59,000 homeless vets in the entire country,” Gould told the conference call. “If a limited number of beds are made available around the country this would make a real contribution to homelessness.”
And he added, “We’ve made real strides to get the number down to that 59,000 and we want to make sure we keep that commitment to end veterans’ homelessness.”