More off-the-street strategies: It's not the data, it's what you do with it

This information provided by Smart Cities Council Compassionate Cities.


The headline on a recent editorial in the Seattle Times says it all: "Focus on data, not good intentions, to combat homelessness." As it has for the past five years, Seattle's point-in-time count of the homeless climbed this year. Given that "by every measure, homelessness is worse," the editorial notes that fixing the crisis will require patience and innovation and cautions that promising new data-driven strategies are just getting underway. It's a good reminder that the homeless crisis so many cities are facing didn't happen overnight and won't go away overnight. But using data effectively may speed the process. – Liz Enbysk


By the end of the June New York City intends to have its new StreetSmart app in the hands of homeless outreach workers in all five of the city's boroughs. The app, which allows workers to communicate and log data in real time, has received good reviews from homeless advocates who are already using it in the Bronx and Staten Island, according to a GovTech.com report.

“The work that we do with homeless individuals in a big borough and in the city -- a huge piece of that is tracking folks,” said Juan Rivera, who directs homeless outreach for the nonprofit organization BronxWorks. He said it requires a system that can help workers keep track of what’s going on, who they've encountered, what’s happening with them and what they're doing with them.

"StreetSmart gives us that one system we can use to do all that work," Rivera said. "The more information you’re armed with, the better you can do things.”

It's a major improvement over previous systems that had the city's 400 or so outreach professionals who interact with the homeless on a daily basis keeping their own files – files that were not necessarily shared easily with others. With StreetSmart, workers can enter the data they collect about a homeless client's situation and needs into a single, citywide database in real time.

The app is expected to help outreach workers communicate better with each other, reduce duplication and build trust with clients.

Benefits of data pooling in Bristol
With the second highest number of rough sleepers in the UK, there are high hopes for the new data sharing system being pioneered by Bristol's homeless health service BrisDoc.

The Guardian reports that the aim is to pool data – from medical, social, psychiatric services and prisons to give doctors information they need to help their patients. Prior to implementing the data-sharing platform last fall, it could have taken hours to pull all of the information together.

It also eliminates the need for patients to spill out their entire history every time they see a doctor.

“You get so sick of retelling your story," one homeless man said in the article. "But this time the GP could see my notes, and she used the entire time with me to chat about my mental state. I really found that helpful. Now we’re talking about counselling.”

Dr. Mike Taylor, lead GP at BrisDoc, offers a scenario of police finding a homeless person wandering drunk through rush hour traffic. A quick look at the data platform will reveal if the person is known to mental health teams. If so, it would lead to a referral there rather than a night in jail.

“These are not feckless joy riders,” he tells The Guardian. “Every time you go deep with a homeless person you find out that they have been abused senseless and cannot cope with their pain. A marker of a civilized society is how we deal with those who are down on their luck.”

Salt Lake County's homeless system overhaul
What's being called a critical new communications strategy will become the heart of Salt Lake County'seffort to help its homeless and nearly homeless populations.

As Shaeleane Gee, the county's special projects manager, told the Deseret News: "We’re switching from a shelter or facility-based system to a services, client-based system. So when you're assessed for what your needs are as you’re about to become homeless or you’re in a crisis, we’re assessing where you need to go, what resource center is appropriate … and how you’re going to get there."

Under the current system, Gee said that someone in need could be turned away from a service provider that is a bad fit, but may not receive adequate guidance on where they can go instead.

With the new model that will be phased in, she said a person's vulnerability profile can be thoroughly compiled, their most pressing needs categorized and someone can immediately pinpoint who can help them and how they can get to where they need to go.

Funding for the new Coordinated Entry System includes money to train human services workers throughout the county to use fully integrated client data and to develop an app that will in real time enable providers to identify existing housing inventory in the system and match it with clients.

Related articles…
Off-the-street strategies: Honolulu calls its new 'homeless court' a success story
Suffering in Silicon Valley -- and how homeless advocates are trying to end it

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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