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Newsom: Unified Data System Will Help State Track Progress on Homelessness

In his second State of the State Address, Gov. Gavin Newsom focused Wednesday on combating homelessness and said California is committed to deploying a new data system to track its progress. Agency officials told Techwire about that initiative, already underway.

Gov. Gavin Newsom devoted nearly all of his second State of the State Address Wednesday to discussing solutions for California’s homelessness crisis, and agency officials told Techwire they’re already at work envisioning the technology to assist those efforts.

Newsom spoke for more than 30 minutes about confronting homelessness, and in his only direct nod to tech and innovation, said: “In order to track the progress, we’re committed to developing and establishing a unified homelessness data system to capture accurate, local information. Because at the end of the day, you all know this, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Joe Morris, vice president of research at the Center for Digital Government*, called mention of the state’s technology strategy “noticeably absent,” but said: “I don’t find this unusual at all, as the issue of homelessness is likely the most vital issue impacting our state’s communities.”

“We’re in the era of ‘smarter’ government; hopefully by bringing data to bear, the state will expose new innovative solutions to this pressing issue,” Morris said. Among the takeaways:

• Officials at the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency (BCSH) said they’re already at work on a Homeless Data Integration System. It would create state-level visibility into aggregated, generalized information that local Continuums of Care (CoC) — regional planning bodies that deal with homelessness — collect, then report annually to the federal government. A procurement will go out in the near future through the California Department of Technology’s procurement page, Lynn von Koch-Liebert, BCSH deputy secretary of housing and consumer services, told Techwire, adding late summer or early fall is BCSH’s target for an award.

• The initiative predates the Newsom administration and was shaped in part by Senate Bill 1380, signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2016. That legislation set so-called Housing First policies for state agencies with programs that provided housing-related services to the homeless or those at risk. But it also called for creation of “a statewide data system or warehouse that collects local data through Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS), with the ultimate goal of matching data on homelessness to programs impacting homeless recipients of state programs. …”

“We began to understand that … we needed more than just a state HMIS equivalent. We needed to be able to capture the information and be able to look at it across jurisdictions and look at it both in terms of how the data is utilized through state entities and local Continuums of Care,” said von Koch-Liebert. She characterized the project now as “absolutely being driven by the administration. This is how we begin to tackle the homeless crises.”

• This system, the deputy secretary said, is aimed at de-duplicating data to get a clear picture of trends and linkages across the entire state. But high levels of privacy will be built in, and the state won’t be able to “see, individual by individual.” The current procurement being readied is just a first phase — focused on the CoCs, and designed to later be able to scale and aggregate other data sources.

“It will allow for more data-driven decisions for funding and other aid that we may provide,” Russ Heimerich, BCSH deputy secretary of communications, told Techwire. “We’re excited about being able to put this out there and track things that we haven’t been able to track too closely before.”

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, parent company of Techwire.

Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.