The role of geographic information systems (GIS) is obvious in many community emergencies, like wildfires, hurricanes or flooding. Borrowing from transferable workflows and decision support tools, state and local governments are applying these best practices to battle social inequities such as blight, opioid addiction and homelessness.
These similarities do require a shift in organizational and operational thinking when it comes to working with health inequities like homelessness. Real-time information must be accurately gathered in the field, collected in a central place, and analyzed to inform effective resource allocation and decision-making.
There are six pillars for resolving a crisis in real time: organize, collect new data, communicate, deploy and allocate resources, inform and educate. After each crisis, local leaders document what they learned and repeat the process. This shift in thinking moves organizations from the traditional programmatic approach we have seen in the past with efforts to curb homelessness, to a more direct approach that continually reviews and adjusts.
Ultimately, GIS allows responders to make better decisions and policy-makers to be better at adjusting methods and tactics to keep a community moving forward.
A location-based strategy can help create that holistic approach to data collection and analysis. Knowing where your community of homeless populations are and where best to allocate your resources are keys to success. Organizations can use this six-step framework to integrate GIS into their tactics and ensure they are addressing homelessness from all sides.
Organize your data. Identifying all the variables that impact homelessness leads to a framework of understanding. Before directing or creating any new resources, it’s critical to understand what’s happening in your community today. While homelessness is a nationwide problem, the causes and symptoms are heavily localized. Whether it’s a lack of adequate housing options, health or mental counseling, or other community support systems, it’s imperative that agencies determine what resources are lacking within their community before they begin applying tactics.
GIS allows community leaders to gain an accurate picture of how and where homelessness is occurring, as well as the impact it’s having on those areas. Public health officials, human services, law enforcement and volunteers can gather information from disparate data sources, geo-tag that information and then combine it in a single dynamic map to understand the effect of homelessness.
Collect new data in real time. Moving from static data to a data-driven policy approach requires collecting and organizing “ground-truthed” information. In addition to data gathered by events, such as official point-in-time count numbers, many organizations will find it necessary to create more data to inform their efforts. Using Esri mobile solutions, staff or volunteers can easily collect additional data from the field, such as new encampments, disease outbreaks, and nonprofit program locations/events to build a more complete picture of their community.
Communicate your findings. Collaboration between programs and agencies reduces redundancies and improves overall efficiencies. As data is collected and analyzed the information can be placed into an operational dashboard. The Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS provides visibility into data drawn from GIS, finance, accounting, customer relationship management systems, and other enterprise resource planning tools to begin monitoring and better understanding your progress. Staff at all levels must continually track changing community dynamics as well as the success of their prevention and response tactics to ensure ongoing success. Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS can offer dynamic, real-time views of every component of the strategy in a single place.
Deploy tactics and allocate resources. Once a full view of community-specific homelessness rates and resources is created, staff can use maps to quickly decide on a course of action. Optimizing and allocating resources based on need and location maximizes limited resources. For instance, with all information on a single map, they could quickly identify areas where homeless populations are concentrated, current resources are located, and where to add additional services such as housing, medical attention, food, counseling, training, or other resources.
Inform decision makers. GIS is an excellent tool for public relations managers to provide briefings to elected officials and government executives. Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS can be used to present information on the state of the crisis, financial allocation based on communities, and progress of tactics so that swift decisions can be made in real time.
Educate the public and constituents. Understanding the state of homelessness and what is being done about the issue is important for the public to understand. Esri Story Maps can provide a context that is easy to understand and relatable to where your constituents work, live and play. Story Maps let organizations combine authoritative maps and data with narrative text, images and multimedia content to paint a picture of homelessness. They can better understand the health risks, effect on neighborhoods, and impact on infrastructure, as well as better realize why and how funding and assistance is being applied to keep their community resilient.
Finally, for nonprofits and volunteer-oriented citizens, the same tools can be used by staff to collect information and direct persons experiencing homelessness as to where and what opportunities are available to improve their lives.
This post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent industry perspective, Responding to Homelessness in Crisis Mode. Be sure to read the entire brief to learn how to deploy GIS in your community.
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