Red Light for Youth Homelessness

To thwart human trafficking, a team of WPI-led researchers wants to cut off the “supply” of potential victims in New York City.

Renata Konrad, associate professor at the Foisie Business School, will use a $535,565 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop tools the city and its partners could use to calculate the shelters and services needed for homeless youths.

“To disrupt human trafficking, we need to look at the beginning of the supply chain—at-risk homeless youths,” Konrad said. “The question is, can we stop the trafficking process before it happens with shelters and services for homeless youths?”

Co-principal investigator on the project is Andrew Trapp, associate professor at the Foisie Business School. Other researchers are faculty members at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Northeastern University.

The team plans to survey homeless youths to estimate the prevalence of homelessness among young people ages 16 to 24. It will use data analytics and optimization to project how shelters and services could be used to efficiently help youths. The approach puts a social twist on tools that have traditionally helped businesses transform raw materials into final products.

“The models we develop can be used to optimize the benefit-cost ratio,” Trapp says. “The costs relate to providing food and shelter—including building shelters—as well as medical and psychological care and employment training. The benefits are rehabilitated lives, less time incarcerated, more productive jobs, and tax revenues going back to society because people are having more stable jobs.”

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