A new report by NPR showcases how the sprawling city of Los Angeles, where the issue of homelessness continues to escalate despite massive efforts and investments, is experimenting with AI to predict and prevent homelessness.
The report begins with the story of Dulce Volantin and Valarie Zayas, two individuals who had overcome challenges and found love after meeting in prison. Their journey, however, took a difficult turn when Dulce’s mental health struggles led to hospitalizations, and they lost their home.
Desperate and struggling to make ends meet, they reached a breaking point. But a phone call, initially met with skepticism, would soon change their lives. The call came from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, part of a pioneering program aimed at curbing the city’s homelessness crisis.
The pilot program relies on AI to predict individuals at the highest risk of becoming homeless. It works by gathering data from various county agencies, including healthcare, mental health, criminal justice, and public benefits utilization.
Then using machine learning, it identifies those most vulnerable to homelessness, individuals who often don’t seek assistance due to mistrust and generational trauma. Case managers, like Elizabeth Juarez, then reach out to these individuals, offering assistance and support to prevent them from losing their homes.
From there, the program allocates funds, typically ranging from $4,000 to $6,000, to cover expenses such as rent, utilities, groceries, or other essentials. A unique aspect of this aid is that it is designed to ensure that the recipients don’t lose their eligibility for public benefits.
But the program’s impact extends beyond just rent assistance. It addresses the specific needs of each individual, considering factors like eviction threats, domestic violence, and overall living conditions.
For some, it may involve clearing payday loan debt, purchasing appliances, or providing transportation solutions. One of the beneficiaries of this program is Ricky Brown, a 65-year-old who took in his three grandsons after a family crisis.
The program’s case manager, Fred Theus, is working with Brown to navigate a complex web of financial challenges, including securing a larger place for the boys. While the pilot program has shown promising results, the long-term impact remains a subject of study.
It aims to answer critical questions, such as whether a few months of assistance can lead to lasting stability and if the right individuals are being targeted. Janey Rountree, the executive director of the California Policy Lab at UCLA, which developed the program’s AI prediction tool, expects to publish the study’s results in 2026.
She hopes these findings will provide essential evidence to guide future efforts in preventing homelessness. Los Angeles’ proactive approach, driven by AI predictions, may hold the key to making a lasting difference in the lives of vulnerable individuals and families on the brink of homelessness.
As the program’s success is being closely monitored, there is a possibility that similar initiatives may emerge in other cities, offering hope for a brighter future for those at the highest risk. For Dulce Volantin, Valarie Zayas, and countless others, this program has been a lifeline, proving that with the right interventions and the power of AI, homelessness can be prevented, and lives can be transformed.