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Single Platform Data System Serves All San Francisco Area Homelessness Outreach Professionals

The tech-based consolidation effort grew from a recent larger restructuring of the city’s governmental response to homelessness.

by / June 9, 2017
In San Francisco, a tech-based consolidation effort grew from a recent larger restructuring of the city’s governmental response to homelessness. Flickr/Evan Blaser

San Francisco is in the process of launching a platform that will consolidate all of the data that outreach workers collect while serving the homeless, thus making it available in real time to enhance collaboration and efficiency.

This tech-based consolidation effort grew from a recent larger restructuring of San Francisco’s governmental response to homelessness. In August, the city established a Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, creating a hub, whereas previous efforts had been splintered throughout three entities: the Department of Public Health, the Human Services Agency, and the mayor’s office. As the new department came together, workers did an inventory of existing data systems within the city, and they found 15 unique platforms in use among homeless outreach providers, none of which spoke to each other, said Megan Owens, coordinated entry system manager for San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

“As you can imagine, it’s very easy for that data culture to reinforce a culture where folks can get lost in the cracks, and where systemwide prioritization and system-wide communication are definitely not enabled,” Owens said.

San Francisco is now instituting the ONE System, or Online Navigation and Entry System, to solve this by creating a single platform used by all homelessness outreach professionals in the area. The city’s overarching response to homelessness involves prioritizing individuals based on need. Establishing a single data system creates an easy-to-use and secure platform with which to identify, triage, prioritize and place homeless individuals into housing.  

The ONE System launched in late May, and the city has a phased implementation plan that will eventually see it available to 1,000 users, including more than 200 nonprofit and publicly-operated programs. The intention is also to fully migrate any data from previous systems. The San Francisco Homelessness Outreach has already begun using it, and training for the ONE System will take place throughout June. This process is projected to continue throughout the summer of 2018. The ONE System also provides outreach workers with an app that allows logging and accessing data in real time.

During the procurement process, the city government took advantage of the copious amounts of private-sector tech expertise available nearby, bringing in volunteer consultants from Google and other companies to vet the system and provide advice.

Data has long been a part of San Francisco’s approach to addressing homelessness, with officials using it in 2014 to help shape the city’s Navigation Center, an outreach facility that has been emulated by other local governments, including Seattle. The ONE System has the potential to also set an example for other cities seeking to take the next step in using data to address homelessness, as outreach providers across the country look on.

“A lot of us in homelessness all over the nation are trying to get much more savvy about how technology can be used as a force for good in our sector,” Owens said. 

View other cities using technology to tackle homelessness


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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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