The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today joined JBJ Soul Foundation Chairman, Jon Bon Jovi, to announce the five finalists of Project REACH (Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and the Homeless) during the Health Data Initiative Forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS).
The developer challenge was launched last March by the VA, in collaboration with the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HHS, and the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, which operates the JBJ Soul Kitchen - the community restaurant in Monmouth County, N.J., where competing apps will now be tested. The Project REACH developer challenge called for an online and web application that would provide real-time info to connect service providers who aid the homeless.
"To achieve our goal to end Veteran homelessness, it is vitally important that we capitalize on innovative ideas from the public and private sector. The developer community has responded quickly and creatively to harness technology to meet the needs of homeless Veterans and their providers," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "I am grateful for their hard work on behalf of the Nation's homeless Veterans."
Today's five finalists will receive a $10,000 cash prize and will now pilot their mobile applications at JBJ Soul Kitchen (a community kitchen where diners cover the cost of their meals either through donation or volunteer service). These easy-to-use mobile/web applications have been judged on their ability to update information about housing and shelter near JBJ Soul Kitchen. Additionally, finalists have been able to display information about local VA services, employment support, crisis hotlines and local legal assistance resources.
Ultimately, the $25,000 prize will be awarded to the developer whose app is determined to be scalable on a national level and enables health clinics, food kitchens, housing services and shelters to update the availability of key services automatically online. The winning app will collect, map, and electronically distribute that information for communities across the nation. Throughout the challenge, requirements and performance criteria have been made available at www.challenge.gov.
"We all use smartphones, tablets, or laptops to check the score of a game or to text our friends," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "These bright minds will develop a tool that can actually connect homeless veterans with the help they need to move beyond a life on the streets."
"Every American should have a home, and although we've made progress in our battle against homelessness, there's more work to do," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "With the help of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation, we are using innovative technology to help homeless people and their families get resources they need - such as health care, a bed to sleep in, and food to eat."
"The genesis of this Challenge occurred at the Soul Kitchen last winter when we saw the need for a simple, user-friendly, comprehensive application that would allow us to direct our diners to other resources in the community. We found the VA, HUD and HHS to be of like mind. Collectively, these organizations represent a cumulative wealth of information and now these five finalists have suggested platforms that could tie it all together in real time. They deserve our thanks and congratulations," said Jon Bon Jovi, musician and Chairman of the JBJ Soul Foundation.
Project REACH (Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and the Homeless) finalists are:
Leads: Robert Damashek, Corey Brown
Organization: Binary Group
Location: Arlington, Va.
Lead: John McCarthy
Location: Forest Hills, N.Y.
Leads: Jessi Schoenleber, Joe Nicosia
Organization: JJAppCo, LLC
Location: Manchester, N.J.
Leads: Joshua Temkin and Jim Homer
Location: Reston, Va.
Lead: Mike McDougall
Organization: Makani Kai Tech
Location: Kihei, Hawaii
"The success of Project REACH will be a testament of the developer community's commitment to addressing one of the nation's most important problems," said Jonah Czerwinski, director of the Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative (VAi2). "All the contestants who participated in this challenge represent that commitment, and their talent is evident in the quality of the apps."
Former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, who helped lead the challenge and is one of the judges, said, "Secretary Shinseki's mission is to end Veteran and chronic homelessness. I really appreciate the great work of the VA Innovation team and the JBJ Soul Foundation to pull this contest together, and I congratulate them on the great outcome. This is going to make a big difference in the lives of people who need our help."
One out of every six men and women in our nation's homeless shelters are Veterans, and Veterans are 50 percent more likely to fall into homelessness compared to other Americans. The Obama Administration's "no wrong door" philosophy means that all Veterans seeking to prevent or escape homelessness must have easy access to programs.