As you gear up for the long weekend, remember that Memorial Day is about more than hot dogs, beer, and permission to wear white shoes for the next three months. The holiday was created as a day to honor American troops who died in battle, but the fate of those who make it home safely can be truly grim. According to a study by the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, on any given night in 2011 more than 67,000 veterans slept on the streets, in a shelter, or in transitional housing. While veterans account for only 11 percent of the total U.S. adult population, one in four homeless people is a veteran. And while that may seem out of hand, the number of homeless veterans is actually two-thirds lower than just a few years ago.
Now a competition hosted by the federal government is inviting the tech-savvy to make a unique contribution to ending the epidemic, as part of the Obama administration's goal to end veteran homelessness within the next five years. Project REACH (Real-Time Electronic Access for Caregivers and the Homeless) is a mobile app competition inviting developers to come up with technology that can make a difference in the lives of homeless people and service providers.
Hosted by Challenge.gov, a government platform that supports innovation through prizes, Project REACH is looking for free, user-friendly web and mobile apps that provide real-time information about shelters, health clinics, food banks, and other services. "It is designed to tap the enormous talent and deep compassion of the nation's developer community to help us deliver vital information to the people who care for the homeless," according to a White House press release. The projects submitted thus far emphasize providing contact information, mapping, and directions for people who provide services to the homeless.
The VA's Innovation Initiative will judge the contest, which will award $75,000 to help the winning team deliver on their mission. Submissions remain open until next Thursday, May 31, and finalists will be announced on June 5.