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San Diego County to Fund Homeless Resource App

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has approved funds for an app that will allow outreach workers, paramedics, law enforcement officers and others to match homeless people with available shelter.

(TNS) — Homeless outreach workers, paramedics, law enforcement officers and other professionals will be able to match homeless people on the street with available and appropriate shelter beds within minutes using an app the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to fund Tuesday.

District Attorney Summer Stephan requested the board consider the $300,000 pilot program, which could be launched within six months and include every shelter in the county by the end of the year.

Speaking at a press conference at the county Administration Center shortly before the Supervisors meeting, Stephan said the new phone application will greatly approve the current method of finding available shelters, which often involves people making a series of calls and writing on sticky notes to hunt down a bed.

"There's absolutely nothing that informs them in real time about humane, safe shelter that a person needs," she said.

Stephan said the technology will be similar to what people already use to plan their vacations. Just as someone may request a one- or two-bed hotel room that accepts pets and is non-smoking, Stephan said the new app will find the correct type of shelter for an individual.

"We know that homelessness is not one-size-fits-all," she said. "You have people who are very young. You have people who are very old. You have disabilities. You have mothers with children, escaping domestic violence and human trafficking. We know there are members of the LGBTQ community looking for something safe for them."

The technology will be the first of its kind in the nation and grew out of a similar program launched during the pandemic to match survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault with agencies that provide shelter.

"During the pandemic, we knew that our victims were trapped with their abusers," she said, adding that finding shelter for them used to take up to 10 days.

With the creation of the Safe Shelter Collaborative, Stephan said people were matched to shelters in just eight minutes.

Once launched in about six months, the app can be used by homeless outreach workers, emergency medical technicians and others who interact with homeless people on the street. Stephan said it also will be available to law enforcement, who could use it as a tool to offer shelter to people as an alternative to jail.

Caravan Studios, which developed the Safe Shelter Collaborative, will be contracted to develop the new app.

As a first step, service providers and other stakeholders met for two days in November to discuss what would be needed in the app.

Paul Armstrong, vice president of programs for the San Diego Rescue Mission, was among the participants.

"When a person says, 'Yes, I want help,' it's heartbreaking when there's nothing available," he said.

Armstrong recalled the frustration of a hospital social worker trying to navigate the system to find shelter for a patient, and he said he had seen someone at the Rescue Mission desperately calling different agencies to find shelter for someone just the day before.

Stephan said lost time can mean lost opportunities for getting someone off the street. If a homeless person has to wait days after agreeing to accept a shelter bed, that person may have disappeared or changed his or her mind by the one becomes available, she said.

Chair Nora Vargas said confidentiality will be maintained when homeless people are linked to shelters through the app, and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the app will maximize services that exist through the county and empower outreach workers to immediately find what is available.

Supervisors approved the funding with little discussion as part of the consent calendar. Supervisor Jim Desmond commended that it is encouraging to see technology used to help homeless people in the county.

©2023 The San Diego Union-Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.