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Harvard Students Developing App to Connect Boston’s Unhoused People with Essential Resources

The Y2Y shelter operates out of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Harvard Square.
The Y2Y shelter operates out of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Harvard Square. By Santiago A. Saldivar
By Erika K. Chung and Emily L. Ding, Crimson Staff Writers

Local undergraduates are developing an app to connect Greater Boston’s unhoused population to essential resources, with hopes to launch in the coming weeks.

The app — known as “Alliance for the Homeless” or “Allforth,” for short — will use a map to display food, shelter, and medical resources offered at different locations in a user’s vicinity.

Benjamin Chang ’23-’24, the team’s executive director, said his experience working at Y2Y — a student-run shelter for unhoused young adults in Harvard Square — motivated him to develop the app.

“There are a lot of resources out there for the homeless community in Boston and Cambridge, and the shelters have a lot of information about it,” Chang said. “But something that I noticed was that a lot of the homeless guests that we had did not actually have access to the information, even though it was online.”

Chang said an app is an efficient way to reach the unhoused population and provide them with personalized information, citing his own observation that many Y2Y guests own a cellphone.

“We have a bunch of data from the Y2Y as well as different homeless shelters in the area, so we’re just compiling that data and putting it onto a map to make it more accessible to the homeless community here in Boston,” Allforth Director of Resources Harold Peón Castro ’25 said.

In his research for Allforth, Peón Castro — a director at HSHS, another student-run unhoused shelter in Harvard Square — said he discovered that an app with a centralized set of resources for unhoused people does not exist in Boston.

“I was surprised to research and find that there doesn’t really exist an app that’s done this before — a centralized directory for the resources here in Boston, or really a model that’s scalable to other cities, which I think is something that Ben has thought about doing further down the line,” Peón Castro said, referring to Chang.

Chang offered community fridges as an example of a resource that Allforth plans to include in its app.

“Harold’s found over 20 community fridges just in the Boston, Cambridge area,” Chang said, referring to Peón Castro. “What is the point of an amazing resource like that if it’s not being utilized by the people who need it the most?”

Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, established in 1993, operates out of the basement of University Lutheran Church on 66 Winthrop St.
Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, established in 1993, operates out of the basement of University Lutheran Church on 66 Winthrop St. By Truong L. Nguyen

Chang said the response to his initial email recruiting interested students for app development was “inspiring,” adding he received “double digit sign-ups within an hour.” Allforth’s team comprises both students from a variety of concentrations at Harvard and from other local universities such as Tufts and Boston University, according to Chang.

“I think it’s great that we’re able to actually connect the people who want to help also with the people who need this help,” he added.

As for the team environment, Director of Engineering Kushal Chattopadhyay ’25 described the technical side as “collaborative,” with tasks being delegated to individuals “from different angles, but all of it coming together at the very end.”

Chang said once the app is released, it would be relatively easy to expand the app’s reach to include unhoused populations in other regions worldwide.

“We are potentially thinking about scaling this up to other high-need areas around the country or around the world,” Chang said.

“Once you have the platform, you can just add more data, and you can connect people with resources wherever there is location data for it,” Chang added.

—Staff writer Erika K. Chung can be reached at erika.chung@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @erikakychung.

—Staff writer Emily L. Ding can be reached at emily.ding@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilylding.

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