CANTON, MA - 05/09/2017 (PRESS RELEASE JET)
During the last week in January, people around the country canvas the streets to count the number of people experiencing homelessness. This annual event, commonly referred to as the point-in-time count, provides critical baseline data and helps answer important questions, such as how many people are homeless in the United States or whether there are more or less veterans experiencing homelessness in a given area.
The information collected also helps the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determine how and where to allocate funding. The traditional process has been to recruit a small army of volunteers and send them out into the streets with stacks of paper survey forms. Canton, MA-based Simtech Solutions recognized early on that this was an inefficient and potentially inaccurate approach.
Simtech Solutions employees have been voluntarily contributing to these annual counts for years, and they identified an opportunity for improvement. Over the past few years, Simtech engineers have been developing and testing “Counting Us,” a mobile app that addresses the inefficiencies and location discrepancies that limit paper counts. “Most count volunteers have a smart phone and these phones have built-in GPS capabilities. The ’Counting Us’ mobile app allows these volunteers to conduct basic surveys while also pinpointing their exact location,” explains Simtech Solutions president, Matt Simmonds.
The surveys collect demographic information along with details on any circumstances, such as disabling conditions, that make it difficult for an individual or family to maintain housing. The results are submitted throughout the night of the count to a regional command center where administrators can review the steady stream of incoming data in real-time. “If we need to reach a volunteer because they strayed outside our area, or aren’t filling out the survey properly, we can now address this during the count,” shared Jacqueline Janosko, the count administrator for the State of Connecticut. “This just wasn’t possible when we were using paper forms.”
The Counting Us app also improves and accelerates the post-event data analysis. Gathering the results from paper forms and attempting to produce accurate results from them is incredibly time consuming. “It used to take three staff a full two weeks to enter in all of the data from the paper surveys” said Becky O’Meara of The Planning Council in Virginia. “Now the data entry is done for us and we don’t have to try and read what is oftentimes illegible handwriting.”
After the count is over, the results are shared with HUD and are also used locally to help gauge how well the region is doing to address the issues contributing to homelessness. The data is also used to help identify populations, such as veterans or young adults, that might need additional support and attention. The ability to draw such valuable, actionable insights from count data was especially appealing to Eric Hirsch, Professor of Sociology at Providence College. “I thought it was phenomenal,” Hirsch said. “After using the app here in Rhode Island, I honestly would not want to do a count without it in the future.”
The Counting Us technology was adopted within Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia for the 2017 count. More details on the technology can be found at http://www.PointInTime.info or in this video overview.
Other news stories which cover this work are linked to below…
Image Caption / Description
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs outreach employee Lamar Elliot inputs survey information from Andrew Hernandez, who is suffering from heroin addiction, during San Antonio’s homeless count. Hernandez has been homeless for about a year. "When you have a learning disability like me, you have to work two times as hard as people like you," he told Elliot.
Source: Scott Ball / Rivard Report
About Simtech Solutions
Simtech Solutions Inc. is a cause-driven technology services provider located in Canton, MA. Founded in 1998, the company’s first foray into homeless data research successfully demonstrated that it was often more cost-effective to place homeless individuals with disabling conditions into housing than it was to have them live on the streets or rely on the emergency shelter system. Simtech’s core mission is to build and deploy technologies to help people experiencing homelessness.
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