"What was once a nightmare of a process is now an amazing workflow the staff gets excited about."
City of Frederick Reduces Weeks-Long Homelessness Point-in-Time Count into Minutes Using ArcGIS
The City of Frederick, Maryland, like other cities across the nation, is required to count unhoused individuals within its city limits every January. Without the correct data displaying the population of people experiencing homelessness on a map, the city may not understand where to administer resources or where to expand Housing First policies.
Due to shelter-in-place orders during the last few years, communities across the US were confronted with the challenge of providing housing for individuals who were experiencing homelessness. Governments were forced to set up temporary shelters in convention centers, recreation centers, and hotels. However, as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, these establishments needed their space back. This forced individuals back on the street and left them unhoused and unaccounted for again. The city knew an accurate count of unhoused individuals would become even more critical, especially with the Point-in-Time (PIT) count drawing near. The city turned to geographic information system (GIS) technology that would allow personnel to standardize data collection and empower staff and volunteers to administer the count.
Meeting HUD Requirement Requires Modern Tools
A Need to Modernize
If communities do not modernize the count, there are often miscommunication, data-entry errors, and hours of manual data processing.
Each January, governments across the US are required to conduct the PIT count, collecting data about all the sheltered and unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness in each community. This requirement, from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), helps establish a more complete nationwide understanding of the homelessness crisis. Now, with temporary shelters gone after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, the City of Frederick was no longer able to rely on centralized locations to conduct its PIT count.
While essential to addressing homelessness, the PIT count process can be time-consuming as communities send staff or volunteers out to document individuals experiencing homelessness. Oftentimes, this is a manual process and interviews are documented with paper and pen. Data is then entered into spreadsheets. It is also difficult to coordinate the government staff and volunteers administrating the count. If communities do not modernize the count, there are often miscommunication, data-entry errors, and hours of manual data processing.
Geographic Solutions Put in Place
Such a time-consuming process requires a digital solution, which is what the City of Frederick found with ArcGIS the homelessness point-in-time count solution, which delivers a set of capabilities that helps organizations capture surveys during counts, visualize the extent of homelessness, and export this information in a report that can easily be delivered to HUD.
Through the nonprofit corporation The Community Partnership, the City of Frederick learned that it was one of two communities in the partnership still conducting their counts using paper surveys. Seeking to modernize its procedure, the city reached out to neighboring local governments, which told Frederick staff about Esri's ArcGIS homelessness PIT counts solution. Before this, the city had never used a GIS but was confident that the ability to replace the manual procedure would be worth the learning curve.
The City of Frederick implemented the solution in December and was able to use it for the January count.
"There was very little confusion from the city staff when learning how to use ArcGIS for the first time," stated the city's data administrator, Jessica Handoko. "The solution proved to be extremely user-friendly, no matter the individual's GIS knowledge level."
The PIT count was turned into a modernized digital process in a matter of weeks, with only a month between the city seeking a new solution and staff becoming well-versed in the software and using it to conduct the city's annual count. The ArcGIS homelessness PIT counts solution not only saves governments hours in data collection but also makes submitting their HUD report as easy as a click of a button.
The solution includes the following:
- An ArcGIS Survey123 form used by health and human service agencies and their network of volunteers to conduct sheltered and unsheltered homelessness surveys
- An ArcGIS Dashboards app used by health and human service agencies to monitor results of a point-in-time count of unsheltered individuals as well as sheltered persons experiencing homelessness
- An ArcGIS Notebooks app used by health and human services staff to generate a report of homelessness point in-time counts to meet HUD requirements
Seeing Results in Real Time
Before the ArcGIS solution, staff members manually uploaded their PIT count results to a central Excel worksheet over the course of weeks. Having to go through each individual survey and upload its findings proved to be excessively time-consuming.
With the solution, as surveys were conducted throughout the city, staff back in the office received results in real time and were able to turn their data into easy-to-read visualizations using ArcGIS Dashboards.
"What was once a nightmare of a process is now an amazing workflow the staff gets excited about," Jennifer Beach, case manager for the City of Frederick, stated as the count was being wrapped up.
Seeing the survey results uploaded to a dashboard instantaneously removed what would have been weeks of manual work for the staff. The City of Frederick was able to then export its findings and submit them to HUD in a matter of seconds by utilizing the ArcGIS Notebooks app to create a report that follows HUD data standards.
Location-Based Solutions Make for Long-Lasting Solutions
Location-based solutions have provided cities with a better understanding of where to direct their resources and efforts. The City of Frederick, like many other communities, has learned how straightforward using ArcGIS Solutions can be to better conduct annual PIT counts.
The PIT count provides local governments with the data needed to make decisions on where to allocate resources, provide services, and plan housing strategies. With the use of digitized, location-based solutions, local governments can submit this data to decision-makers almost immediately, giving them the data needed to work on long-lasting community solutions.
The City of Frederick will continue to use the ArcGIS homelessness PIT counts solution to efficiently conduct future counts. The city also plans on using the solution for the 2022 Youth Reach Count, Maryland's effort to better understand the number, characteristics, and needs of minors and young adults who are on their own and struggling with housing.
With the accurate data GIS provides, the City of Frederick can efficiently and effectively see where residents need the most support and then allocate resources to these areas.
Learn more about accelerating the PIT counts in your community.