Homeless SCC What It Is Homeless-SCC (Homeless Santa Clara County) is a web based app that connects homeless individuals with services according to specific needs and eligibility.  The app empowers local government, nonprofit agencies, and the general public to collaborate around accurate and actionable information. The app has been adopted by the largest county government in Northern California, the city of San Jose, and the leading local agencies serving the homeless.  It is currently in the rollout process.  The app was designed by Consulting Within Reach and funded by a local church committed to serving the homeless.   The Problem Being Solved: The Three Ring Binder Serving the homeless requires intense collaboration among respondents.  When a social worker, city librarian, policeman, or neighborhood citizen encounters a homeless person, they encounter a myriad of needs in that one person.  The services needed could include medical, housing, employment, counseling, and more, and will frequently exceed what one respondent can provide.  The capacity of the homeless sector to make accurate and actionable referrals is critical to the wellbeing of this vulnerable population. Unfortunately, the current technology supporting that capacity is nothing more than the traditional three ring binder.  Scattered across the desks of Santa Clara County’s homeless sector are countless collections of flyers, handwritten notes, brochures, and business cards – each compiled in highly idiosyncratic fashion by a different staff person.  The binders vary enormously in terms of accuracy of data, thoroughness of the catalog, and categorization system.  Almost none are accessible to the broader community beyond social service professionals. The drawbacks of “three ring binder technology” are numerous.  For instance, funding instability in the homeless sector means printed information about services gets outdated quickly.  Availability, eligibility, application processes can change monthly.  So while practically every staff we interviewed uses their three ring binder regularly, no one trusts them fully.  This mistrust extends to the homeless: many have suffered an experience where they went to great distance to follow up on a referral, only to find out, for instance, that they did not meet the new eligibility requirements. The importance of having detailed eligibility information is a critical reason why other apps have failed to gain any traction in the sector.  Two existing sites - 211.org and healthycity.org - provide a general overview of social services in the county (both use the same database).  However, the underlying database does not contain any information about eligibility, much less the capacity to conduct searches based on an individual client’s eligibility profile.  Furthermore, the sites do not give the various service providers the ability to self-update their own information in an easy fashion.  The database is widely perceived as grossly outdated (it has never been updated since its creation many years ago) and is another reason why the three ring binder -- for all its critical flaws – still remains the main information tool in use. The fact that the best information about the sector’s service coverage resides in hundreds of three ring binders means that the information is inaccessible to the public.  In fact, the Homeless-SCC project originated from a coalition of churches that wanted to help the homeless in its midst to access services, only to discover that their own church staff could not figure out what was available. Finally, community leaders responsible for stewarding the whole system – government planners, philanthropy, executive directors – do not have the adequate data to spot service gaps, redundancies, and opportunities for greater collaboration.  As the county’s budget director said, “Before Homeless-SCC, we just didn’t know exactly who was doing what, where, and with whom.”   The Solution: A Tour of Homeless- SCC Note: Because the app is in rollout phase, the data includes a combination of real and test data.  The “Make a Referral” function (see Slide 4) requires a user name (“bed”) and password (“password”).   Slide 1 The initial view of Homeless-SCC is the “Service Coverage” function.  It provides users with a quick and searchable display of services available.  The map based display is especially important in the homeless field where a client’s geographic proximity to a referred service can be determinative. This view is accessible to everyone, including the homeless themselves who increasingly access the Internet at public libraries or shelters.   Slide 2 The search box on the left allows the user to quickly filter the view to show only the agencies that meet the search criteria.  The search criteria can include various combinations of services and language competencies (important in the ethnically diverse county).  The map updates instantly.  The color coding allows the agencies marked in yellow to convey that they normally offer the service, but that it is temporarily unavailable This view also gives leaders a bird’s eye view of the field that is unprecedented for the county.  In the slide, for example, leaders can quickly ascertain that agencies providing counseling for Spanish speakers are highly concentrated in the central and north San Jose, with the only agency in the south having run out of availability.  Combined with the knowledge that the Hispanic population is rapidly growing in the south, this view could help overall strategic planning.   Slide 3 Clicking on each flag brings up more detailed information.  Because the agencies manage their own information, they can immediately update information like hours, referral process, and other data that can frequently change.    Slide 4 The “Make a Referral” function reflects the fact that professionals and key community volunteers often want to make a peer to peer referral of a more trusted nature than that accorded to the general public.   For this function, each user in this circle is given an agency specific user account and password. The “Make a Referral” function adds an important search capability: individual client specific information that determines eligibility for services.  As mentioned, this is absolutely crucial to an effective referral.  The app makes the match accordingly.   Slide 5 The app displays the matches on the map.  The user can choose a matched agency and is guided step by step through a simple referral process.  Included in the process is the ability to send a message to the other agency, conveying the kind of personalized information that staff and volunteers appreciate from one another.  This kind of communication can make a difference in whether a homeless individual will be well received, but happens rarely when contact information must be located or phone messages left. Clients are told that this app cannot guarantee that they will indeed be provided service on the other end, but that this process does greatly increase their chances.   Slide 6 Once a referral has been made, the app generates an email to the receiving agency.  The email contains all the important client information and provides links to validate or invalidate the referral with a click.  The sending agency receives a feedback email accordingly. This validation function helps the entire system immediately catch bad referral patterns and adjust quickly.  For instance, if an agency lost funding for a counseling program but is still receiving referrals for that program, this function alerts that agency to change their Homeless-SCC information.  It also immediately alerts referring partners to the change.  Prior to this app, intake staff at an agency might have discontinued that counseling program over a year ago but could still be dealing with homeless individuals showing up at their door based on outdated information supplied by another agency. The amount of wasted time, frustration, and eroded trust on the part of everyone was not trivial.   Slide 7 Once a referral has been made, the app seeks to increase the chances that the homeless individual will actually take action on that information.  Transportation is especially a key barrier to action for the homeless.  One way Homeless-SCC lowers that barrier is by integrating Google Maps into its referral process.   Slide 8 The app provides an automatic set of directions, including public transit options with schedules, to the destination agency.   Slide 9 By serving the practical day to day needs of users, Homeless-SCC ends up capturing a rich set of data on how the entire sector is actually collaborating.  This data can be quite helpful to any number of leaders.  An executive director can quickly spot partnerships that need reinforcement.  City officials can do contingency planning when news of an agency closure is announced, as they can immediately spot what other agencies will be impacted.  A foundation can better target its funding on key nodal points in the overall system.   Before Homeless-SCC, data on collaboration patterns within the homeless sector (or within any other sector in the entire state to our knowledge) simply did not exist.    Slide 10 Homeless-SCC further reinforces the collaborative capacity of the sector by providing a bulletin board for each agency to share other information.  Current physical meetings within the sector are heavily occupied with numerous announcements that could be more efficiently shared in an online format such as this.   Slide 11 The app is only as helpful as the accuracy of its data, and the accuracy of its data is a product of how easy it is for agencies to update by themselves.  Homeless-SCC facilitated this “crowd sourcing” by designing an elegantly simple interface for agency self-updating.  Our testing showed that the average staff could learn to accomplish this function within five minutes of introduction.  Agencies are required to spend only 10 minutes every quarter to review their agency’s data and make any changes.  The app prompts them by sending out automated email reminders with a link to the updating function of the site.  The app can also flag for follow up those agencies that have failed to update their information, thus keeping user confidence in the data high.     The hope and promise of this app Many sectors suffer from the basic “three ring binder problem.”   Indeed, any social problem that is too big for one player to address by itself needs some way for all the players to share accurate information about its services and facilitate the referral process.  Web technology is perfectly suited to address this social need. We intend on using any resources gained from Apps for Communities to realize the promise of this app for other sectors in our county, state, and beyond.  We also would like to explore ways to partner with other developers to make the underlying data freely and publicly available on a wide variety of apps and devices.

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