California Proposal Would Create Homeless Data Warehouse

The bill under consideration would create a statewide database to give officials a clearer picture of the state’s homeless population, the services they receive — and of those at risk of becoming homeless.

by Theo Douglas, Techwire / March 11, 2020
Shutterstock/MattGush

Lawmakers are in the early stages of creating something akin to the “unified homelessness data system” that Gov. Gavin Newsom called for Feb. 19 in his second State of the State Address.

State Assemblymember Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, has introduced Assembly Bill 2872, the California Homelessness Data System Act. If approved by the state Legislature and signed by Newsom, it would create a statewide database to give officials a clearer picture of California’s homeless population, the services they receive — and of those at risk of becoming homeless and receiving “prevention services.”

“Providers have stressed the importance and need for better and near real time information to better understand those who are currently receiving services. A statewide perspective that is data driven is necessary to help those in need and pull them out of homelessness,” Fong told Techwire via email. His bill has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Housing and Community Development. Among the takeaways:

• AB 2872 would require the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to “create a state homeless integrated data warehouse, in coordination with state and local partners, including the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council (HCFC) to develop a comprehensive portrayal” of California’s homeless. The data warehouse would have to comply with state and federal laws on “privacy and personally identifying information,” and encourage collaboration from “local agencies that provide services to persons experiencing homelessness and use homeless management information systems.”

It would require that information aggregated for the database be sufficient to let the state determine “the number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness, their access to benefits, and the stated reasons for their homelessness.” It would require HCD to coordinate with other state departments on a strategy to “integrate information to provide longitudinal, cost-based studies with relevant data.” And the bill would require HCD to create a report to the Legislature, documenting its “analysis of best practices and current gaps in service to persons experiencing homelessness.”

• The system would apparently be internal-facing, for now. Fong said the effort “currently” is to use the data to better assess homelessness “in coordination with federal, state, and local agencies,” though he noted: “Fostering collaboration with the public will be an ongoing effort and discussion.”

• The bill is not a new concept. AB 2872 has origins dating to AB 2161 in 2018, which would have directed HCD to create a state homeless integrated data warehouse. Introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, AB 2161 failed to clear the state Senate Appropriations Committee. A successor last year, AB 67, introduced by Assemblymember Luz Rivas, D-Arleta, and Chiu also didn’t make it out of Senate Appropriations. Rivas is a co-sponsor of Fong’s bill.

Fong said “key components of our bill” came from Rivas's bill, and the idea in general sprang “directly from discussions with our local homelessness providers and experts, prior to the Governor highlighting the need of a data system in California.”

• Doing all this would likely not be cheap. A Senate Appropriations analysis of AB 67 in August cited HCD and HCFC cost estimates of $15 million from the General Fund to stand up the database; more than $1.2 million in Fiscal Year 2020-2021 and nearly $1.2 million ongoing for permanent staff; nearly $600,000 in FY 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 for “limited-term legal staff”; and around $200,000 per year for new staff to “coordinate with HCD” on the data warehouse’s development and administration. The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) estimated “minor to significant one-time costs” of $50,000 to $2 million if “additional data fields” had to be programmed into Medi-Cal eligibility and management data and information systems and the Single Streamlined Application.

The Department of Social Services (DSS) identified “one-time automation costs” of $5 million to $6 million to add and collect data and synchronize it to the data warehouse, as well about $3.9 million annually for caseworkers obtaining data from homeless residents or those at risk.

“We are working” with the state Department of Finance to assess the proposal, Fong said. He called homelessness a “critical issue” around the state and said it’s vital that if the state invests in solving homelessness, that officials have the tools to tell whether programs are working.

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