Ample Labs, a Toronto-based non-profit that builds technology solutions for the homeless community, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the development of Chalmers Bot.

Chalmers Bot is a web-based chatbot that offers the homeless population real-time information on overnight shelters, clothing banks, drop-in facilities, and free meals in the city.

According to Ample Labs, the majority of people facing homelessness are actually in an “invisible” or “transitional” state, meaning they are either couch surfing, staying with family or friends, or sleeping in their cars. The organization said as many as 50,000 people could be experiencing this kind of hidden homelessness on any given night in Canada. The Ample Labs team discovered that many of these individuals (77 percent) own and use a smartphone, which allows them to locate shelter, food, clothing, and social services.

Last year, the non-profit team piloted more than 100 discussions and workshops with frontline staff, homeless and at-risk youth, community organizations, and social services in Toronto. The primary frustration many experienced was having to scroll and search for hours for information on nearby shelters, central intake phone numbers, and free meals.

With its chatbot, Ample Labs is looking to streamline this information in a real-time, user-friendly and accessible format that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The platform has already recommended more than 1,000 free meals to its more than 300 monthly users.

The crowdfunding campaign went live on April 15, with the aim to raise $10,000. The funds will support the at-risk and homeless youth who will be co-designers of the chatbot. These co-designers will be working with a volunteer group of developers and researchers, and will be supporting the operations at Ample Labs, which is run by volunteers. As of April 18, the campaign has raised more than $4,300.

In the future, the chatbot will also serve as a platform where people can ask more complex questions that surround issues of homelessness, such as what to do in the case of an eviction. Ample Labs said it is hoping to be able to provide answers to these kinds of questions in real-time as well. The chatbot will be publicly launching in June 2019.

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