Home » Innovations » How COVID-19 Turned Medicine Hat into a Social Innovation Sandbox
Dr. Alina Turner

Dr. Alina Turner

CEO & Co-Founder, HelpSeeker

Jaime Rogers

Jaime Rogers

Medicine Hat Community Housing Society

Medicine Hat, AB, became well-known as the first city to end homelessness in 2015. In practical terms, it means this community has a response in place that prevents homelessness, and rehouses those who fall through the cracks within 10 days. Never ones to rest on their laurels, Medicine Hatters took on a new challenge to embrace social and technology innovations that tackled root causes to homelessness, including poverty, a lack of affordable housing, and domestic violence.

Building on this energy, local organizations partnered with tech social enterprise HelpSeeker to develop game-changing ideas, the first being the Help Navigator app, which connects people with the supports closest to them in 22 languages. Since the launch of the app, these have spread to 200 communities across Canada, giving people a way to access almost 140,000 services, and growing everyday. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this digital network immediately mobilized to support those impacted who were struggling with mental health, domestic violence, or basic needs, generating over 100,000 interactions monthly on the platform at the height of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for innovation rather than halting it.

Jaime Rogers, Medicine Hat Community Housing Society

“I think of Medicine Hat as this perfect innovation sandbox: the community embraces change and doing better and it’s not afraid of failing forward,” says HelpSeeker CEO and Co-Founder, Dr. Alina Turner. “Seeing this idea develop locally and then spread so quickly inspires us to take on new challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for innovation rather than halting it,” adds Jaime Rogers of the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society.

What’s next for Medicine Hat? Rogers has convened a local group of movers and shakers to partner with HelpSeeker on a significant systems transformation initiative through a national housing strategy solution lab funded by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The initiative aims  to restructure the local social sector using concepts like digital ID, blockchain technology, and machine learning. “These aren’t common terms used in the social realm, but we believe the application of these types of emerging technologies can create significant value in the delivery of social services, in our case, affordable housing,” says Steffan Jones, Vice President of Innovation at CMHC.

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