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6 Jurisdictions Tackling Homelessness with Technology

Data- and tech-based collaborations play key role in an increasing number of cities and counties across the country.

Public servants who work to reduce homelessness often have similar lists of challenges.

The most common of these are data sharing between groups involved with the homeless, the ability to track interactions between individuals and outreach providers, and a system that makes it easier to enter information about the population. Recently, we spoke with more than a half-dozen government officials who are involved with the homeless, and while obstacles and conditions varied among cities, all agreed that their work would be much easier with better tech-based solutions for the problems cited above.

These officials, however, were uniformly optimistic that such solutions were becoming more readily available — solutions with potential to solve the logistical hurdles that most often hamstring government, community and nonprofit efforts to help the homeless find jobs, residences and medical care. Some agencies, in fact, have already had success implementing tech as components in larger campaigns, while others are testing new platforms that may bolster organization and efficiency.

Below are a few brief vignettes that detail some — but far from all — ongoing governmental efforts to use tech to aid and reduce the homeless population.

Empty homeless camp in Bergen County, N.J
1. Bergen County, N.J.

One of the best examples of government using tech to address homelessness can be found in Bergen County, N.J., where officials recently certified their jurisdiction as first in the nation to end chronic homelessness. READ MORE

2. Aurora, Colo.

Aurora, Colo., in the Denver metropolitan, area uses the Homeless Management Information System required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but those involved with addressing homelessness there have also developed tech-based efforts that are specifically tailored to the area’s needs. READ MORE

Homeless in Seattle
3. Seattle

About a year and a half ago, Seattle decided to put measures in place to get a better overall sense of how its many homelessness outreach programs were functioning, and accomplished this by asking outreach providers to begin contributing data in five key areas: exits to permanent housing; average length of stay in shelters; returns to homelessness entries from homelessness; and the utilization rate of shelters and services. The idea, one official said, is that by using a dashboard to examine the data, they can foster “a more efficient and effective system in terms of addressing homelessness.” READ MORE

4. New York City

New York City is rolling out an app called StreetSmart, which enables homelessness outreach workers in all five boroughs to communicate and log data seamlessly in real time while in the field. With StreetSmart, these workers will be able to enter that information into a single citywide database as they collect it. READ MORE

Homeless in San Francisco
5. San Francisco

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. READ MORE

 6. Asheville, N.C.

Unlike many of the cities making advancements in reducing homelessness via tech, Asheville, N.C., is doing so primarily with the aid of nonprofit volunteers, rather than only doing so within city government. Code for Asheville, a Code for America brigade, recently began working with the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Coalition after noting it had little to no Web presence. Code for Asheville is now working to change that. READ MORE

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.