Now we can track all required information for the grant and additional information more efficiently with the use of GIS, which enables us to allocate more resources to mitigate homelessness.
City of Modesto Uses GIS to Help Community Efforts with Outreach to People Experiencing Homelessness
In 2020, the City of Modesto received $3.8 million in Emergency Solutions Grant funds from the CARES Act to help address homelessness. With this additional funding, the city expanded the Homeless Engagement and Response Team (HEART) to engage and build relationships with unsheltered individuals to provide immediate support, intervention, and connections with assistance programs or mainstream social services and housing programs.
Jessica Hill, Modesto's community development manager, implemented a data collection tool utilizing geographic information system (GIS) technology to collect real-time information for people experiencing homelessness that also complies with the federally mandated requirements of the funding source.
Before receiving CARES Act funding, workers involved in outreach for people experiencing homelessness used cumbersome paper forms to collect information from individuals staying in encampments. After recording the data on a paper form, the outreach worker would be responsible for manually inputting the data into the community Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). The data was then compiled, analyzed, and exported for federal funding reports. The outdated paper-based collection approach also affected the completeness and quality of the data.
The availability of additional federal funding allowed the city to leverage Esri's ArcGIS Solutions for homelessness—a set of preconfigured, ready-to-go applications focused on helping the homeless crisis. One solution included implementing a form created using the ArcGIS Survey123 app, which makes a customized survey, tracks locations, and showcases the data on a user-friendly dashboard in real time. The new web-based system allows outreach workers to collect data required by the federal funding sources on smartphones, iPads, and laptops with a few clicks as they assess individuals experiencing homelessness throughout the city.
What previously took up to 20 minutes now takes a few moments to collect responses, increasing efficiency and productivity. The efficiency created by the implementation of the survey allowed for additional data to be tracked. Outreach workers now ask other questions to assess why the individuals are experiencing homelessness and what would assist them in finding permanent housing.
"With homelessness being a serious priority and growing concern, the City of Modesto was looking to build relationships with the community of people experiencing homelessness to determine what gaps were in the system that hindered their ability to move to the next step in finding shelter," said Hill.
The ability to collect and analyze data in real time has allowed the city to work with community partners and service providers to take a targeted approach toward reducing homelessness.
The data collected through Survey123 is visualized through a dashboard created using ArcGIS Dashboards that displays the information on a single screen. The dashboard provides city officials and policy makers a bird's-eye view of the number of individuals contacted during a specific time, services provided, reasons services are denied, and demographics of the population served.
The community development team integrated the form from Survey123 through ongoing training with the HEART outreach workers. HEART members quickly and successfully learned to utilize the survey to collect the information in real time out in the field.
Real-time data collection and visualization are part of a larger community initiative. The City of Modesto has been able to expedite community efforts to expand outreach for people experiencing homelessness with the location intelligence provided by GIS technology. This outreach is part of a larger effort that the City of Modesto has implemented called Camp2Home, which provides a six-step path to self-sufficiency for individuals experiencing homelessness and helps lead people to a life with stable housing.
"The goal of this new system is to have a better understanding of the needs of this vulnerable population and get them to the right resource to help them be successful. We continue to be diligent in analyzing the relevant data to help these individuals move off the streets and into shelters, employment, and then to permanent housing," stated Joe Lopez, Modesto's city manager. "The City of Modesto has been working diligently over the last four years to address homelessness in our community, and this is another important and vital tool that we can use to support these efforts better."
This story of the City of Modesto is just one example of how state and local governments are tackling pressing issues related to the nation's pandemic response and recovery. The story also demonstrates the value that federal stimulus funding and programs provide in assisting governments as they move their response and recovery efforts forward.
Esri is dedicated to helping organizations learn best practices through real-world examples. Explore the Aligning with Federal Stimulus Programs overview page, which provides organizations with updates on and examples of using GIS to align recovery efforts with federal program objectives.
Resources will continue to evolve as Esri documents customer's successes, posts open data sources, and identifies solutions that align with federal stimulus programs.