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Regional News

New App Helps Homeless in CDA

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St. Vincent de Paul in Coeur d Alene is using a new computer app to help with the process of assisting those in need.

The organization operates three area thrift stores, and also assists those less fortunate in the community to find jobs and housing. They have assisted 5,000 people last year, of which 1,200 needed help with transitional housing or finding shelter.

Now it has a new employee named SARA who is assisting many of those who are down on their luck. SARA is short for Socially Aware Robot Assistant. She is a computer app.

St. Vincent executive director Jeff Conroy says case managers often have as many as 60 clients they are working with, and to meet with them once a week to check in is a difficult proposition. He says SARA can help with that load.

“SARA is an artificial intelligence program that we started in the emergency shelters and we got all the people in the shelter signed up through either an email or their cellphone," Conroy said. "And SARA every day will send them questions. Have you found housing, have you found a job today? Can you send us a copy of the application, have you done a medical check?”

Conroy says that allows the case managers to work more closely on other issues with clients who may need help in other areas to get back on their feet.

“Is your computer broken? Let’s gets your computer fixed. Is your car broken? Let’s get your car repaired. Do you need work clothes? Let’s get you a voucher, that kind of stuff," he said.

Conroy says while some clients may not have a smart phone, they can get computer and internet access through the St. Vincent center.

He says it appears the new system is working. SARA went on line on January 1. Conroy says the average stay at a shelter in Idaho for the first quarter was 55 days, but at the St. Vincent facility, it was just 28 days.