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Benetech Service Net: when technology works for social good

Benetech Service Net: when technology works for social good

Homelessness has always been a very serious problem in the United States. In fact, it has become a source of concern as early as the 19th century when urbanization projects hit the most vulnerable ones. Nowadays, the number of homeless in the US is estimated at around half a million individuals. The health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation even worse. It is believed that it has led to the unemployment of over 16.3 million Americans. As a result, the demands on critical social safety net services, such as food, shelter and medical treatment, have skyrocketed.

Luckily, in the modern world, software technologies have the power to change reality.  Among innovative solutions supporting the homeless in the US, one deserves special attention – and it is Benetech Service Net.

About Benetech Service Net 

Benetech, a Californian non-profit tech company, describes its mission as ‘empowering communities with software for social good. In practice, it means working closely with the social sector and Silicon Valley, identifying urgent social needs and offering software solutions that can lead to a positive social change.

Benetech built Service Net – an open standards data exchange platform that makes it easier to share and maintain information on local social and human services. And you have to realize that for many people in need, social safety net programs are a critical lifeline that helps them to survive. Because of that, many organizations are trying to provide the so-called bridge to the safety net for those people by maintaining directories of social services. In this way, they can effectively refer their clients to the right resources. 

Thanks to Benetech Service Net, organizations providing referrals or referral technology and agencies providing information about their services, such as community-based organizations (CBOs), food pantries or government agencies, can work together to make better data available for everyone.

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Improving the information flow for the needy

However, finding accurate information may be a challenge, mostly due to the need of constant updates about resource availability to increase the likelihood of successful referrals. Many of the directories contain duplicate information on the same social services. Besides, when they are independently managing and updating that information, costs rise and effectiveness decreases.  

And that is exactly the reason why Benetech Service Net was built. It aims at improving the process of the information management and update through a collaborative data management infrastructure. If one agency updates information on a service, all agencies on the platform benefit. The participants can transfer the data that they have collected in their own database into a central data hub. An important element is an algorithm with which the system calculates the similarity factor between data on social services. It matches each organization’s entries with the records from other users. If two records show different information on the same service provider, the Service Net platform surfaces the record, recommending that they compare their own records to the records of others. In such a way, users can be sure that the information they have access to is regularly updated and complementary.

How SolDevelo helps to address critical social issues

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Obviously, when data is aggregated from various referral services and agencies, it becomes more powerful. Putting it into simple terms: a better social service referral system serves more people in a better way. However, it happens only under the condition that information is accurate and up-to-date.

The team of SolDevelo engineers working in this project deals with the production of an IT system in Java-powered Spring Boot and ReactJS technologies based on microservice architecture. The purpose of the system is to collect, synchronize, and systematize free social assistance services for the homeless and needy in the United States.

It can be well illustrated on the example of the city of San Francisco where there are many social organizations gathering information on e.g. the location of shelters and diners for the homeless. However, their data is often saved in various formats, they have inaccuracies between them and there is no system that is the only “source of truth” for such services. The platform task is to download, store, systematize, and compare such data. Thus, the system acts as an aggregator and a central data repository on services for people who search for them. 

An additional functional element is an interactive platform for managing places in homeless shelters. It allows users to view available beds in a given place in real-time and makes it easier for the shelter supervisors to keep their records updated and reliable.

Response to COVID-19 health and economic crisis 

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During the coronavirus outbreak and due to the health and economic crises created by it, Benetech Service Net proved to be even more needed. CBOs were facing the dual challenge of both increased demand for their services and huge restrictions on how those services could be provided. As organizations had to adapt and expand their service offerings, Benetech Service Net gave them a useful platform to broadcast their changes in service to the entire safety net ecosystem. 

In practice, it meant that users could filter listings by service type or geographic area and browse offerings in a list or map view on mobile or PC. Daily updates enabled them to quickly communicate real-time information about service availability or changes – it is a crucial feature as, in fact, organizations constantly have to learn to adapt to evolving and changing COVID-19 safety protocol. What is more, updates published to Service Net were automatically pushed to all organizations on the Service Net network what led to increased efficiency of the platform 

As new services were popping up every week and the standard ones were changing their eligibility, capacity, and hours on a daily basis, Service Net ensured that finding relevant information across all partners is still easy and intuitive. For this reason, a collection of records specific to COVID-19 has been prepared and the search for all services and organization descriptions for terms such as “corona”, “virus”, “covid”, etc. has been enabled. All of this in order to ensure that everyone will have access to the most complete, accurate information about the full range of services available – whenever they need to. 

Profits not to be underestimated

Benetech Service Net surely helps people seeking support to find the help they need faster and more efficiently – simply through easier access to information. However, it also addresses the needs of those working to serve the community’s most vulnerable populations. Thanks to it, service providers and referral agencies collaborate in order to serve more people more quickly and with the right resources. They can use their expertise to contribute data such as service availability, hours, and information on who is eligible, creating a beneficial ecosystem at hand. And up-to-date information at one’s fingertips is what Benetech Service Net is all about!

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