AWS Public Sector Blog

How AWS customers and partners are supporting the homelessness crisis response during COVID-19

As the COVID-19 outbreak began, advocates and public health officials grew concerned for the more than half a million people experiencing homelessness. Homeless populations are particularly vulnerable because they have higher rates of serious underlying health problems, generally lack access to quality health care, and have no way to self-quarantine. This prompted many communities to implement interventions to reduce the risk of exposure for people experiencing homelessness.

AWS customers and partners have acted with compassion and care to assist the most vulnerable individuals across our communities. From collecting and analyzing data to better allocate resources to rapidly rehousing the homeless to contain the spread of the virus, our technology is enabling organizations to react quickly and make a difference in the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness in their communities. Here are a few ways they are using cloud technology to support those in need.

Mobilizing to house the homeless

Information about people experiencing homelessness in the United States is maintained within a community’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). As many communities moved quickly to use vacant hotels to protect vulnerable homeless individuals from COVID-19, their HMIS systems needed to quickly adapt and deploy new fields, capabilities, and workflows so quarantine and isolation clients could be monitored within existing systems and better cared for during this time.

For example, Bitfocus fast-tracked the release of new location-based street outreach and encampment tools that bring powerful geospatial analytics to their Clarity Human Services HMIS software. Green River added functionality to their Open Path platform to help medical providers serving this vulnerable population track and index COVID-19 cases and their contacts at scale. To help their customers rapidly support remote work requirements, Social Solutions activated remote intake capabilities, texting, and email for all customers registered on their ETO HMIS solution. Wellsky deployed a new COVID-19 survey and companion data visualization within their Community Services HMIS solution so communities could better monitor and communicate the impact of COVID-19 on people experiencing homelessness.

Geolocation data for resource distribution

outside mobile handwashing station

Mobile handwashing station (photo by Maysam Ali)

In early March, the city of San Diego took steps to flatten the curve by deploying handwashing stations where people experiencing homelessness needed them most. They used data from their recent homeless census collected by Simtech Solutions’ Counting Us app to identify where people experiencing homelessness tend to gather and quickly distributed stations within the city and in unincorporated areas as well.

The Counting Us app, and the Regional Command Center that receives data from it, are now being used to support the ongoing distribution of over 1,100 meals each day throughout San Diego County. This private philanthropic investment, made possible through the Lucky Duck Foundation, is providing food and water to people currently living on the streets with very little access to nourishment. This effort helps professional outreach workers to build trust and rapport with clients, a critical step as staff walk clients closer towards their goal of obtaining stable housing.

Attending to mental health and remote outreach

When COVID-19 hit, organizations like New Beginnings providing counseling and group therapy to people experiencing homelessness or struggling to remain stable in their housing had to quickly adjust to support remote outreach. APN Partner VerticalChange moved New Beginnings’ mental health counseling from a paper-based system to a completely remote system, allowing patients to fill out their own permission and intake assessment forms through a client portal, which enabled case managers to log treatment plans and progress notes through the portal ensuring continuity of care.

With the stay-at-home orders issued as a result of COVID-19, the Hunger & Homeless Coalition of Collier County reached out to AWS to enable remote work capabilities for their staff. “Continuity of our duties to our community has become exponentially important to coordinate homeless prevention and rapid rehousing through document sharing,” said Michael Overway, Executive Director, Hunger & Homeless Coalition of Collier County. The coalition uses Amazon WorkSpaces and Amazon WorkDocs to help provide services remotely. “We can more effectively transfer documents and collaborate on assistance plans for clients between staff and community partners because of AWS,” added Overway.

Acceleration of relief fund distribution

Caring for the homeless population is a community effort. From donating to volunteering, communities are coming together to care for their neighbors. Many communities have crowd-sourced relief funds for residents that are unable to receive federal relief efforts. Those funds are helping homeless populations pay for rent, utilities, and cover other needs.

VerticalChange helped nonprofit Enlace Chicago configure a system to import emergency funds applications from community members affected by COVID-19, match them with available assistance, and track receipt of that assistance. As a result, Enlace Chicago accelerated fund distribution and created a foundation to distribute further assistance as it becomes available.

With limits on staff and resources, Orange County United Way needed a platform to manage the application-to-approval-to-fund process that would not inundate the call center or create lengthy queue times, and would allow financial relief to arrive in a timely manner to those who need it the most. Orange County United Way collaborated with AWS to build AssistOC, a highly-secure mobile and web-enabled app that that automates this process and allows people in Orange County, California to submit requests for financial assistance to the nonprofit’s Homelessness Prevention Program.

These efforts, led by our customers and partners, show that cloud technology can be a driver of collaboration, speedy response, and better decisions that make a difference in the lives of homeless individuals.

Learn more about how AWS is supporting the homelessness crisis. Read the AWS whitepaper on homelessness and technology and visit the Amazon Day One blog for more on how we’re responding to the COVID-19 crisis.