Mobile apps help community with annual homeless count

I write about broadband and I volunteer at various endeavors to support people experiencing homelessness. So I was eager to learn more about an app that would help with annual HUD count related to homelessness. GNC reports

Every year, on a single night in January, communities across the country conduct an annual count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness.

To make it easier to collect data during these point in time (PIT) counts, cities are using mobile apps to help volunteers and community coordinators collect and manage the data.

Massachusetts-based Simtech Solutions’ Counting Us application, due to be used in at least 50 regions this year, lets outreach teams input detailed information in real time so coordinators can validate data as it comes in. A second app, Show The Way, allows social workers to input more detailed data about individuals’ habits and experiences with location and demographic data, images and other indicators of vulnerability. The company’s technology has even helped some departments track COVID-19 in their homeless populations.

Because the PIT homeless count provides a snapshot of a community’s homeless population, and not a comprehensive survey, the data may not be complete.

In Minnesota, there are two counts per year. (COVID has forced some changes.) Last time I helped was January 2020; I administered surveys with people experiencing homelessness. (The picture is from that count; I brought a friend.)  It takes about 15 minutes to ask a series of sometimes intrusive questions. The folks I survey get paid (maybe $5-10). The January survey count is cold and the surveys are done at night. I usually get lucky with an semi-indoor gig but still my cold handwriting on paper for each person can’t be easy to decipher. And sometimes people are unable to give you exact answers – and to be fair sometimes at 4am, they lose a little interest. So it was interesting to hear how the app helps fill in some gaps and make follow up easier…

In the past, Houston would use a sample of the its PIT count to extrapolate demographic information about the homeless population, said Ana Rausch, vice president of program operations for the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston. “Now, we are asking the questions in person,” she said.

Since the interviews are captured with geolocation data, Rausch said that her department has also been able to find concentrations of encampments and deduce shifts in the unsheltered population based on new developments and construction.

“After the count, we have sent teams to those hotspots where people are densely packed together to engage them about housing, which is the eventual goal,” Rausch said. So, even if someone does not answer part of the survey, the volunteer is able to make a determination for a future follow up,” she said.

This entry was posted in Broadband Applications, Government by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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