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No GIS Experience, No Problem

About this time last year, Placer County’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Administrator Sue Compton was in a time crunch.

January’s biannual count of people experiencing homelessness, the point-in-time (PIT) count, was quickly approaching. Compton needed to find a solution for the county’s dated system, which made collecting and managing data time-consuming and inefficient. The paper-based format for collecting information about residents experiencing homelessness was not going to cut it.

“The legibility of these surveys can be a nightmare,” Compton said during GovLoop’s online training Thursday.

The solution she landed on was a geographic information system (GIS), which is an online spatial tool for data collection, management and analysis — think data plotted out, represented and visualized on a digital map.

With Esri’s ArcGIS platform, Compton’s team digitized the clunky paper survey onto mobile devices without any code. Despite having no GIS experience, Compton tested, customized and rolled out the tool in three months’ time. The final device was intuitive and easy to use with a dynamic dashboard that displayed metrics in real time for surveyors.

“It made people feel more accomplished and identified gaps for services,” Compton said.

The team then was able to configure options that fit the needs or focuses of varying regions. Nevada County, for example, is more rural than Placer County, but it was still able to use the tool as part of the same group coordinating services for those experiencing homelessness, called a Continuum of Care (CoC). The ability to configure ArcGIS is part of what made the tool effective for collecting and assessing data in both regions.

ArcGIS improves a community’s ability to fight homelessness by addressing four key areas: conducting effective PIT counts, reporting ongoing activity, analyzing the data and connecting people with resources.

“Every jurisdiction is going to put an individual spin on it,” said Esri Health GIS Patterns Specialist Jared Shoultz. The tool can be on-premise or cloud-based, as well as public-facing or internal.

Homelessness is a complex and widespread issue, which is why it needs matching configurable solutions. According to data from the Housing and Urban Development Department, homelessness increased for the second year in a row, with a rise in individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness between 2017 and 2018.

“We need to make sure that communities that are experiencing homelessness have resources available to them,” said Esri Account Executive Matt Myers.

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