Nov. 4, 2019

Engineering prof turns to data analytics to help homeless shelter

Geoffrey Messier matches clients to services in latest project for Calgary Drop-In Centre, a United Way partner

A digital safety net, for those in danger of falling through the cracks. That’s how Dr. Geoffrey Messier, PhD, sees his work developing new data tools for staff at the Calgary Drop-In Centre, allowing them to leverage information in their database so clients without a traditional home or roots are not overlooked.

“I’m currently doing data analytics work to help improve services at the Calgary Drop-In Centre,” says Messier, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering.

“The project is basically developing tools to better match clients to services it could be health related, or to match clients to housing programs.”

Close to his heart

The Calgary Drop-In Centre, an agency partner of United Way of Calgary and Area, has been close to Messier’s heart since 2015, when he lost his wife to breast cancer.

Looking for a way to move forward after the devastating loss, Messier heard about a program providing palliative care to people living with homelessness.

“Having recently been through palliative care with my wife, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like facing that without a home,” recalls Messier.

And so he decided to help, joining up with the Calgary Allied Mobile Palliative Program (CAMPP) and Street CCRED (Community Capacity in: Research, Education and Development), a grassroots collaborative supported by the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.

Lending his expertise to make life better

Four years later, Messier is still working with the Calgary Drop-In Centre and other homelessness-serving agencies, using his expertise and energy to make life a little better for those needing a lift.

Messier says data analytics will help ensure that staff serving emergency shelter clients have an up-to-date picture of the specific needs of each client to ensure no one in need of additional help falls through the cracks.

“It can provide a picture of an individual's physical health, mental health and history, to match them with the services they need the most.”

Support from community donations

Of course, Messier isn’t the only one working to make life better for clients at the shelter.

From staff to volunteers, the facility works to improve conditions for Calgary’s vulnerable, while depending on sponsors like United Way, which itself is supported by community donations and fund-raising efforts like UCalgary’s annual United Way campaign.

“Giving back to the community through United Way makes a lasting impact on this city,” says Dr. Bill Rosehart, dean of the Schulich School of Engineering, and campaign co-chair.

“As a university community, it’s vital that we stand up for the things that matter and lead to positive change in our city, and our world.”

Learn more about UCalgary’s United Way campaign and check out the full list of engaging activities running until Dec. 13. Give online, download a paper pledge form or find information on tax receipts related to your United Way investment. Or, your donation can easily be made through payroll deductions.