New app connects homeless, police and well-meaning friends to Hamilton services

Most people who are homeless have cellphones, and a group of Hamilton social service agencies are joining together to launch an app that will help users find food banks, clothing banks and other services.

The United Way of Halton and Hamilton is partnering with the library, the mayor’s office, Wesley Urban Ministries and Canada 211 to work with Ample Labs, a non-profit developer that’s created the Chalmers app.

The app is already in use in Toronto and Barrie, and will roll out in York, Peel and Durham next month. In Hamilton, it will connect people to resources such as hot meals, shelters and free lawyers.

Say the word “homeless” to the average person, and “they will likely think of encampments set up across the city,” said Cam Galindo, who’s helping roll out the app locally. So is Todd White, former chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

But there’s also hidden homelessness, which is people couch surfing with family or friends, in shelters, or about to be evicted, Galindo said. 

Ample Labs surveyed people living rough in Toronto and found that 94 per cent of them had cellphones, and 77 per cent had smartphones, said founder CG Chen. She made the comments during a Tuesday unveiling for social service agencies.

Some users are using WiFi at places like shelters and the library, so Chalmers has a simple, easy-to-load interface, she said. Sixty per cent of people who have accessed in other cities used desktop computers, which means some were likely at the library or another place with free internet access.

Since last year, more than 75,000 people have used Chalmers, Chen said. Half were aged 15 to 30, and 56 per cent were women. 

Thirty per cent of users were homeless, 38 per cent were concerned citizens looking up help for someone they knew, and 32 per cent were front-line responders like police officers. 

In Barrie, Chen said, 172 police officers used Chalmers on their phones in the first two months. 

Galindo and White will spread the word about the app among agencies, the police service and potential users.

Initial funding of about $52,000 came from federal emergency COVID-19 funding through the United Way, the agency said. That money only lasts until March, Galindo said, but the group hopes to find other funding sources, or even for the city to take over ownership. 

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