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Philly’s new homeless outreach is about to get a data boost

Homeless outreach in Center City has been revamped. May 18, 2016 Category: FeaturedMediumMethod

Disclosures

Editor's note: This piece has been updated to reflect that an earlier HUD grant supporting the Office of Supportive Housing came in two parts worth $36 million total, and that OSH's original homeless outreach program was not entirely reactive. Edit @ 5/23, 10:45 a.m.
Homeless outreach in Center City is being revamped to become more proactive and responsive.

Announced by Mayor Jim Kenney earlier this week, “Hotspots in Prime Times” will do exactly what its name suggests: Four teams of two outreach workers will be deployed at morning rush hour, lunch and evening rush hour to four places where homeless individuals are most prevalent.

They’ll also serve as “ambassadors” responding to citizens’ questions and concerns, said Office of Supportive Housing Director Liz Hersh.

It’s a big change from the old homeless outreach program, which deployed outreach teams on-demand. It was a somewhat reactive system that outreach workers weren’t satisfied with. This new effort, Hersh said, was developed largely by the workers themselves using panhandling data and the data they’ve collected themselves, supplemented by input from people living in Center City.

The city does not yet have a functional Homeless Information Management System, which enables homeless data to be shared across departments — even though it's mandated by HUD.

“It’s very much data-informed,” Hersh said. “They were really feeling some frustration themselves and wanted to try a different strategy.” 

That data was collected and analyzed by the outreach team themselves. The city does not yet have a functional Homeless Information Management System, which enables homeless data to be shared across departments — even though it’s mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As of now, outreach data lives with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), Hersh said. That will change next week, when the system will be up and running under a new provider. Once the kinks are all worked out, OSH will be able to provide a “dashboard and reports” that can inform programming.

The new outreach program, designed to build relationships with individuals experiencing chronic street homelessness, launched earlier this week. But it’s not a quick fix.

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“It’s really about how to share the streets and help people who are experiencing homelessness get access to the services, and eventually hopefully housing, that will help them not be homeless anymore,” Hersh said. “We wanted to be responsive to the changing dynamics [of Center City].”

Between development in LOVE Park and Market East, people who have been living on the streets of Center City are being displaced as they watch the city change around them — and concentrating in hot spots around the city like the Convention Center, its concourse and Rittenhouse Square.

The new effort is being funded with $5 million a year by DBHIDS — not from the massive two-part $36 million HUD grant OSH received earlier this year, though the two have somehow been “conflated,” Hersh said.

“It’s not a blank check to the city,” she said. It’s renewal money that the city applies for. This year, Hersh said, the city happened to hit a home run. That $3 million Hersh and OSH asked the city for to begin alleviating growing youth homelessness numbers in Philadelphia would have to come from City Council — and could be deployed quickly.

“The city money that we get, which is smaller, is what enables us to be a little more flexible and respond to changing needs,” Hersh said.

Project

Office of Homeless Services

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