Ava Pipitone, founder of HostHome, has a long way to go before her vision becomes a reality. Like many early-stage ventures, further growth will take a little luck and a lot of hard work. But the progress so far indicates she just might be building an excellent example of the true power of social enterprise.
Working from a core concern for those without a home, Pipitone is building a technology venture that hits the critical triple play that social enterprise demands.
First, she is creating social value by improving the speed and efficiency of the process of matching people currently experiencing homelessness with available housing. It’s a process that has numerous inefficiencies. A person who has entered the system can go two to three weeks after registering before they can be placed in a shelter, and beds are often left unused because of delays in processing a case. A caseworker, meanwhile, can only handle four to six cases at a time when the need is three to four times that high.
HostHome is also creating economic value because the software being developed could dramatically increase the efficiency of the process, saving the nonprofit caseworker time and money (part of which will be shared with HostHome through subscription and licensing fees for the software).
Third, by making the process more efficient, HostHome’s technology may be able to reduce the population of homeless individuals, resulting in lower cost to society and an improved quality of life for the city (which is known in social enterprise as civic value).
So, what specific technology is this social entrepreneur using? HostHome is a software plugin that seamlessly interfaces with the various existing client management systems that nonprofit case managers use to connect people in need with available beds. The system is HIPAA-compliant, maintains full client confidentiality and requires less than 2 hours of training for a case manager to be fully functional.
While the current version is in beta, Pipitone is already mapping additional functionality that will allow a direct interface with various mapping tools and ridesharing platforms. The ideas behind HostHome have already garnered some powerful support, winning the backing of the Open Society Institute and the Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab. Pipitone and her team are now working to raise the money to finish the software design, beta test and begin to develop marketable prototypes.
Experiencing homelessness is not something anyone desires. And reaching out to ask for help is never easy. But to make someone wait for two weeks or more (which can feel like a lifetime on the street) is simply inhumane. If HostHome is successful, they just might make a sustainable difference.