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February 9, 2016

Students Propose Ideas to Combat Homelessness in Chicago

Students gather at the Booth School of Business to consider various strategies on how to tackle the problem of homelessness in Chicago during a BCG case competition.

Students gather at the Booth School of Business to consider various strategies on how to tackle the problem of homelessness in Chicago during a BCG case competition.

Courtesy of Alice Xiao

At the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) case competition last month, Students proposed recommendations for methods to combat homelessness. More than 160 students participated from both the College and various graduate divisions, excluding the Booth School of Business.

The case prompt asked participants to “design a model for the Chicago Interagency Council on Homelessness that includes stakeholder outreach, stakeholder responsibilities, and interagency programs and initiatives.”

The event was organized by fourth-year Suhel Singh, president of Alpha Kappa Psi, and Ph.D. candidate Anthony Martinez, UChicago Consulting leader and BCG representative. Teams of five or fewer participants researched and presented their ideas to a panel of Chicago aldermen and BCG judges. Student groups received 10 days total to process given data, conduct additional research, and present in two rounds between January 16 and 23. Five groups progressed to the final round, with two groups each winning a cash prize of $200.

“A winning group should have the ability to come up with a convincing hypothesis, present relevant data, and ultimately tell a compelling story that conveys their approach,” Martinez said, providing the judge’s perspective. 

Both winning presentations defined responsibilities of stakeholders, outlined methods of progress-checking, and exhibited plausibility, timeliness, and thought that strengthened existing initiatives.

The winning team of graduate students was comprised of Harris School of Public Policy master’s degree students Ivy Sun and Weichen Hu, and Ph.D. candidates Atiya Khan, Kristina Pagel, and Martin Scheeler. The team proposed the creation of a new agency that more efficiently matched needs to services.

The winning team of undergraduate students was comprise of second-years Natasha Shebalina, Claron Niu, Putter Thepkanjana, Jan Ertl, and Joshua Lam. The team presented a data-driven approach to centralize the collection and dispersion of data in order to eliminate overlap and fragmentation.

Both teams highlighted the need to more efficiently match needs to service providers, cut costs through technology and reorganization methods, and broaden the variety of services offered to the homeless beyond just supportive housing.

“In the beginning, there was an overwhelming amount of information to sift through, and group discussion was what really allowed us to identify good ideas…After the first round, we realized that homelessness was a local problem, and solutions should be more tailored to the regional needs,” Sun said.

In particular, Sun said that the group realized the north and south parts of Chicago cannot be efficiently serviced the same way due to the cultural and demographical differences. This was addressed in their final winning proposal, in which they added to the organizational structure an additional component at the city level.

The UChicago Poverty Lab is expected to forward the winning teams’ presentations to various city agencies in the upcoming months, a step towards getting ideas implemented.

The goal is to build and maintain a relationship between the University and the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services and All Chicago, the main organizations for combating homelessness in conjunction with the Mayor’s office. Students can find ways to extend their ideas and innovations through these channels of implementation.

“Events like this let students see that consulting can be more than just increasing profits and adding economic value—it is a vehicle for creating real social impact,” Martinez said.

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