A $1.25 million National Science Foundation grant funds the California State of Fullerton community project to develop smart home technology for people who previously suffered from homelessness and now live in permanent, supportive housing.

According to Anand Panangadan, an associate professor of computer science who is leading the project, permanent assisted housing is an evidence-based approach to the homeless that includes ensuring access to the services residents need.

The three-year project, “Developing and Testing Remote Services to Support Former Homeless Residents in Permanent Housing,” brings together a team of multidisciplinary researchers from CSUF and USC, as well as two non-profit organizations dedicated to homelessness in Orange County.

Project co-authors — CSUF Kieran Georgeprofessor of computer engineering and researcher in user-friendly assistive technology, and Tabashir Nobari, assistant professor of public health whose research includes housing problems and homelessness; and Benjamin Henwood, USC Professor of Social Work, an expert in housing and comprehensive homelessness. Community partners are Mercy House and Jamboree Housing Corporation.

Anand Panangadan
Anand Panangadan, Associate Professor of Computer Science

“There are few studies that have explored technological innovations to provide services in permanent supportive housing for the homeless population,” he said. Panangadanwhose research interests include machine learning applications.

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

“Most of these services are traditionally provided in person,” Panangadan said. “But the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the role of technology in delivering some of these services, such as home visits and mental health counseling, that can be done via video conferencing.”

The project will study the factors that determine the successful use of smart home technology in supportive housing and develop prototypes to demonstrate how the technology can facilitate and improve services, Panangadan said.

Prototypes under consideration include a smart pan for easier cooking, a smart tablet, and a social media app designed to improve social connections with other residents and the surrounding community, George said.

In addition, the project will explore key technologies to improve security, secure residents’ privacy preferences, and expand smartphone interfaces for Internet access and services.

The project is part of the Big Ideas Project of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.Digital Homelessness Initiativethat meets the complex needs of the homeless by expanding technological solutions.

Kieran George
Kieran George, Professor of Computing

According to George, the project team is currently conducting focus groups with residents living in permanent, comfortable housing, as well as with staff from the partner community, to understand the factors influencing the adoption of technologies and get feedback on the development of prototypes.

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

CSUF engineers and computer scientists will design and develop technology prototypes. Panangadan said public health and social science students will help conduct interviews, focus groups and surveys and analyze the data generated from these activities.

Tabashir Nobari, Associate Professor of Public Health

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

“Smart technologies, mobile devices and apps are increasingly being used in medicine and public health to address health inequities,” she added. “Giving our students this experience will give them important skills for the future.”

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