News / Edmonton

There’s an app for that: Boyle Street software shows new picture of homelessness

Daily data about who is using their services and why now going online every night

David Woodruff is a software developer with Boyle Street Community Services

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

David Woodruff is a software developer with Boyle Street Community Services

New software rolled out by the Boyle Street Community Services this week tells the story of Edmonton’s inner city—in real time.

“It’s the best look at who’s using our building, that Boyle Street’s ever had,” said David Woodruff, who started as the inner city non-profit’s data coordinator in the summer of 2016.

Since taking over the role, Woodruff has explored better ways to quantify the services Boyle provides. Social programming stands to benefit from better numbers, he argues.

“I’ve been looking for better technology to use in the sector. I think there’s a void of tech knowledge.”

The new app launched earlier this week and allows reception staff to input visitor demographics directly into the database when they enter the building. Previously, this was all done with paper on a clipboard, and another person later had to spend hours inputting data, Woodruff explained.

The program then creates a daily snapshot, which goes online every day. At midnight the numbers refresh.

For example, the data for Dec 13 shows there were 1,555 visits by 464 people. About three quarters were male, 42 per cent were sleeping in shelters and the centre was busiest at 11 a.m.

“Previously we were entering data a few months after an event happened. But now we can react to the data we’re collecting in real time,” Woodruff said.

The data captured by the new system on Dec 13.


The data captured by the new system on Dec 13.

Immediate data means staff can respond more quickly to issues, and decide what kind of programming is needed sooner, Woodruff said. Not to mention the 35 hours per month of manual data entry he estimates will be saved, freeing up staff for other work.

It was part of the plan from the beginning to share the numbers with the public.

Woodruff points out it helps inform the public about the work being done in the downtown core, and allows funding organizations to see just how their money is being spent.

Woodruff hopes to apply similar technology to other aspects of Boyle Street's work.

“It’s pretty new territory for us and in most social organizations. I really see data and information as a way for the sector to work together and be on the same page.”

More on