The $ 1.25 million grant supports Smart-Home Technology Solutions to provide services to the first homeless

A $ 1.25 million grant from the National Science Foundation is funding a community-based project in the Cal State Fullerton community to develop smart home technologies for those who were previously homeless and now live in permanent support housing.

Sustainable housing is an evidence-based approach against homelessness and ensures access to the services needed by residents, said Anand Panangadan, an associate professor of computer science who is leading the project.

The three-year project, “Designing and Testing Remote Services to Help Former Homeless People in Sustainable Housing,” brings together a team of CSUF and USC interdisciplinary researchers with two nonprofit organizations working on homelessness issues in Orange County.

Project collaborators include Kiran George of CSUF, a professor of computer engineering and researcher in assistive technology devices, and Tabashir Nobari, an assistant professor of public health, whose research includes insecurity and homelessness; and Benjamin Henwood, a professor of social work at USC who specializes in homelessness and integrative support for the homeless. Community partners include Mercy House and Jamboree Housing Corporation.

Anand Panangadan
Anand Panangadan, associate professor of computer science

“There is little research that has looked at technological innovations to provide services in sustainable support housing to the homeless,” said Panangadan, whose research interests include applications of machine learning.

These services include mental health counseling, substance abuse resources, job placement, and support for state and federal benefits.

“Most of these services are offered in person,” Panangadan said. “But the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the role of technology in providing some of these services, such as home visits and mental health counseling, which can be done through video conferencing.”

This project will examine the factors that determine the use of smart homes in successful smart home use, and will develop prototypes to demonstrate whether technology can facilitate and improve services, Panangadan reported.

Prototypes being considered include a smart pot for smart cooking, a smart pill box and a social connection app designed to facilitate better social relationships with other residents and the surrounding community, George said.

In addition, the project will explore key technologies to increase security, ensure residents’ privacy preferences, and expand their phone interfaces to access the Internet and services.

The project is part of the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences Big Ideas-Digital Homelessness Initiative, which addresses the complex needs of the homeless population by expanding technology-based solutions.

Kiran George
Kiran George, Professor of Computer Engineering

The project team is currently conducting discussion groups with residents living in permanent support homes and community partner staff to understand the factors influencing technology adoption and get feedback on prototype design, George said.

“Based on the needs of the residents, the prototypes will be developed using a‘ lean design ’approach, which refers to the development of an iterative solution, with the rapid development of prototypes that can be evaluated quickly,” George added. “And what you’ve learned applies to the next iteration.”

CSUF’s leading engineering and IT team will design and develop technology prototypes. Public health and social science students will assist in interviews, discussion groups, and surveys, as well as analyze the data obtained from these activities, Panangadan said.

Tabashir Nobari, Assistant Professor of Public Health

“This interdisciplinary research provides unique opportunities for public health and social work students to collaborate with computer scientists and engineers who develop these technologies,” Nobari said.

“Smart technologies, mobile devices and applications are increasingly being used in medicine and public health to address health inequalities,” he added. “Providing this experience to our students will provide them with important skills for the future.”

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