Three high school engineer students from the Sylmar Biotech Health Academy have received the attention of the mayor for the computer system program they developed as a group project that would not only keep track of individuals who are homeless, but could also match up their circumstances, skills and capabilities with jobs, training, and medical or mental services.
The three students — Jonathan Pena, a sophomore, and juniors Brian Hernandez and Joel Yahutenzi, all 16, — recently received a first place award from Mayor Eric Garcetti during n Earth Day event at the Getty House on April 22.
Homelessness has been at the forefront of concerns for the mayor.
LA’s homeless community is a mosaic of people that include those who have lost their jobs, their homes, are victims of domestic violence, drug and alcohol dependent, and find themselves without a safety net.
The students’ system program provides a portal that the homeless could access, as well as housing officials.
It’s the goal of the students’ project to reduce the number of people on the street — particularly in their hometown of Sylmar. Representatives from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority met last month with the three students at their school on the Sylmar High campus, and discussed the project.
Edna Losa, a math, engineering and physics teacher at Sylmar Biotech — and who is the engineering instructor for all three students — said the three young men were taking a more unique and narrower approach to the homeless, whose numbers are still growing in Los Angeles county.
Losa said the students were brainstorming ideas for a project to enter in an engineering contest.
“I told them I didn’t want them to do a project that, after the contest, means nothing. I wanted it to have a big community impact. As a engineer it is our responsibility to find solutions to a problem.”
“What is main problem in Sylmar?” Losa asked them. Pena thought it was homelessness. And then he shared his experience of having been homeless.
“I heard the voice of someone who wanted to help and not have that experience happen to others,” Losa said. “I have experience in system development, and it turned into this project.”
They’re developing the system program and data collection through Blockchain technology, Losa said.
Right now the system program is targeted for homeless people between the ages 13 to 35.
“I want to clarify we are not trying to eliminate older people. They are still part of system. But [this targeted group is] the youth, the hope of nation. and we want to make sure we can integrate again back into society.”
“We’re still collecting data,” Losa said, adding it would currently take “a month to verify” whether a person or persons would meet the criteria to be entered in the program system.
But once a person is accepted, they would be matched up to a proper job training site or necessary medical support.
Losa emphasized that this is not an app, but a complex system program that is best described as a “portal.”
A lot of the system program is still in the developmental stage, Losa said.