and some change

Startups and the Homeless

So today an interesting headline passed across my feed - yesterday the Washington Post ran an article detailing the efforts made by startups as part of a hackaton to ease the suffering of San Francisco’s homeless.

Barry Roeder, a San Francisco management consultant, wants to eliminate the lines by creating a neighborhood-wide network of touch-screen kiosks where people could make and check reservations themselves. The system could also notify people by text message if they received a bed — the Creative Currency survey found that while few residents have smartphones, about 60 percent have access to some kind of cell phone.

As well-intentioned as these efforts are, the thing that struck me while reading the article was how silly the proposals sound - while it’s amazing that these people are trying to make the plight of the homeless less-painful, there is something very misguided and wasteful about proposing that a company or city government pay for touch-screen kiosks to make the process of reserving spots in the homeless shelter less painful. The real issue at hand is that San Francisco’s homeless shelters simply don’t have enough space for the city’s homeless! It seems pretty clear to me that the solution to this problem is not to spend millions on making reservations at homeless shelters easier to make, but to expand the homeless shelters themselves or address the fundamental problems leading people into poverty in the first place.

The high-tech idea proposed in the article makes crystal clear one of the biggest reasons why you don’t see tech startups in Silicon Valley effectively addressing and attacking poverty - not only is there very little money to be made in helping poor people, the people who run and work for tech startups for the large part have no idea what the actual problems causing homelessness and poverty are, and don’t understand what the biggest issues facing a homeless person are. All this ties back into the plasticity of social norms - if you’re not constantly immersed in poverty and surrounded by it, you can’t be expected to know much about how to fix it. Not that this is an unfixable situation - but when there’s just so much money in tech right now, I can’t imagine many startups directing their efforts to this problem. It’s a damned shame, too; lack of money (and social stigma) is the problem here, after all.

Three researchers from the University of Berlin quantify the relationship between unemployment and happiness - This is really interesting work, though the direction of causation still needs to be determined. I’d also be really interested in a study that looks at if there’s a relationship between the number of unemployed friends a person has and the degree to which their unemployment affects their happiness. It’s too bad that the BLS longitudinal datasets don’t track peer data. If anyone knows of a public dataset that does, I’d be happy to do a study!

There’s a weekly casual Starcraft meetup in northside Chicago - If this wasn’t an hour and a half away I’d go every week! I’m really surprised that there aren’t more major SC2 tournaments or events in Chicago given its central location.