Paint by Number: A Picture of Homelessness in the City of Boston
The Pine Street Inn Men’s Shelter (pictured below) is one of several shelters in the Boston area that house the homeless each year. In 2015, Mayor Walsh released Boston’s Way Home, a plan to end chronic homelessness throughout the city. The plan leans on a process of “coordinated entry” to prioritize homeless individuals for housing opportunities based on data about their individual cases and their history of homelessness. Though this system has successfully housed hundreds of people in the Boston area, the same system has also aggravated fears about algorithmic bias and its potential to create additional barriers to housing. There are others who worry about the long-range implications of inviting data and technology into the management of highly vulnerable communities.
Through a series of interviews, this study aims to discover coordinated entry’s effect on the agencies and homeless individuals within Boston’s Continuum of Care. I contextualize this system within modern discourse around privacy, surveillance, and agency of marginalized communities, offering a closer look at the opportunities and the unseen risks of applying rigid technical processes to complex social problems.