Like officials in Bergen County, N.J., those in Aurora, Colo., which is part of the Denver metropolitan area, have also used the Homeless Management Information System required by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Their HUD region, however, consists of seven different counties.
As such, the city has installed some tech-based efforts more specifically tailored for its own needs. For example, the city recently began using new technology to get a more accurate county of its homeless population, which it tagged at 526 individuals in January, up from 420 at the same time last year. The difference, officials say, was likely not as much in the actual population as it was in the technique used to collect data.
In past years, surveys of the city’s homeless population had been done by hand paper counts. This year, a team of volunteers in Aurora — 40 people riding in eight vans — used cellphones and Esri’s Survey 123 tool, a Web-based application that let them pinpoint locations of homeless on a map in real time.
“There were so many mistakes on those paper surveys, and sometimes those paper surveys have to be thrown out, and that’s not cool because then we don’t have the data on that individual at that time,” said Shelley McKittrick, Aurora’s homelessness program director.
McKittrick was brought to Aurora about nine months ago to be the city’s first homelessness program director. In that capacity, she has collaborated with Bill Keever, a GIS coordinator in the city’s IT department, and Ryan Witsell, a GIS specialist who also works for Aurora in IT.
Esri was the city’s existing GIS vendor, and using its tech to help track homelessness was almost as simple as McKittrick just reaching out to Keever and Witsell. They all three said they see the use of this data-collecting tool as a start, and they will soon explore actions that will grow from the data. And successful initiatives tend to grow from data collected without a specific takeaway in mind.
“We’re doing a lot of different work to make sure everybody is working toward a system that leads to housing for folks,” said McKittrick during a conference call with Keever and Witsell. “There’s ways to implement technology there, this one and probably more. I have friends sitting across the table from me to help me with that.”
Both Keever and Witsell voiced their support.