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The “You Can” Van Drives Around New York City Stopping Evictions

The van uses big data to target areas where people are most at-risk of losing their housing.

For someone on the brink of eviction, it isn’t easy to know where to look for help or to have time to navigate through city offices and find legal aid before it’s too late.

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But in New York City, a new custom-designed RV called the “You Can Van” brings a homelessness prevention office to the blocks most likely to need it.

“Many people are often fearful or reluctant to seek help or don’t even know where to go,” says Julia Beardwood, partner at the creative agency Beardwood&Co., who worked pro bono with Joe Marianek of Small Stuff to design the new van for CAMBA, a local social services organization. “It can also be difficult for people who are elderly, disabled, or have small children or jobs to physically get to HomeBase offices.”

The city first launched the HomeBase, a program run by CAMBA that works to prevent homelessness before people end up in shelters, in 2004. The model worked: 95% of the people in the program don’t end up losing their homes. But after CAMBA started working with big data–mapping out pending evictions and what was happening in the housing court–they realized that they could reach more people by targeting buildings with the most people at risk.

“Paired with detailed geographic mapping, the CAMBA “You Can Van” enables HomeBase staff to drive directly to the buildings and neighborhood blocks where those at greatest risk of homelessness are now living and offer on-the-spot prevention services,” says Beardwood.

The designers call it a “Trojan van”–something that people will be curious about and approach. “It’s designed to draw people in to ask ‘You can what?'” she says. “When they get closer, they discover the powerful and effective arsenal of homelessness prevention services within.”

Inside, there’s a waiting area, two private offices, computers, and Wi-Fi. People can apply for some benefits immediately and get referrals to other services like legal aid. In a year, the van is expected to help 300 families–mostly on struggling blocks in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn–avoid eviction and homelessness.

It’s a lot easier to keep people at home than later try to get them out of the shelter system–and it’s also better for taxpayers. “If we can keep people from becoming homeless in the first place, that’s not only better for the person or family . . . that’s less costly for everyone,” says Melissa Mowery, director of CAMBA’s HomeBase program.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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