AWS Public Sector Blog

Using the cloud to integrate homelessness data with whole-person care services

Using the cloud to integrate homelessness data with whole-person care services

In San Diego County, California, for every 10 homeless people who found housing in the last year, 13 more people became homeless. Without a safe place to sleep at night, it’s hard to focus on employment, staying healthy, raising a family — the building blocks of a good life. In communities across the country, organizations, philanthropists, and government are working hard to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. And they’re using Amazon Web Services (AWS) to coordinate their response.

A system on a mission

To fund local efforts to help those affected by homelessness, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants roughly $3 billion annually to local projects combating homelessness. HUD distributes this funding to communities through collective representative bodies known as Continuums of Care (CoCs). Each CoC identifies a lead agency that serves as its collective representative to HUD and maintains a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to track service delivery and measure outcomes according to specific HUD standards. CoCs are free to choose from one of the many HMIS systems on the market and can use HUD funding to pay for the cost.

In San Diego, the second largest city in California and the eighth largest county in the nation, The Regional Task Force on Homelessness (RTFH) serves as the CoC’s lead agency and oversees its HMIS system. RTFH needed to connect information about 700 different homelessness related programs from more than 1,200 case managers at more than 75 different organizations and government agencies across San Diego County. When it comes to selecting which HMIS system to use, integration and interoperability with other systems is critical. “Not all HMIS systems are the same. Communities have choices now, but they know migrating to a new system is hard,” said Tamera Kohler, chief executive officer of RTFH. Three years ago, RTFH migrated to AWS Partner Bitfocus’s Clarity Human Services HMIS because of its growing integration capabilities. Clarity Human Services runs on AWS.

“The 2022 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Homeless Assessment Report found that there were 582,462 people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2022. That’s half a million people without a home,” said Kim Majerus, vice president of global education and US state and local government at AWS. “RTFH, and the other 400 organizations like them across the country, are collecting, analyzing, and reporting crucial data that helps individuals and families find permanent housing. To do this, they need robust, user-friendly systems, like those delivered by Bitfocus and powered by AWS.”

Data integration and interoperability

True care coordination depends on the timely flow of information so care providers can recommend and refer clients to the right services. But many service providers who use HMIS are also using multiple software applications to do their job and have to enter the same client interaction data in multiple systems—time better spent connecting clients with services. “Our previous HMIS didn’t integrate easily with other systems. Using Clarity Human Services, we’ve been able to integrate with the local Community Information Exchange as well as other service providers reducing a lot of the duplicate data entry in our community,” said Jegnaw Zeggeye, chief data officer at RTFH. In addition to saving time on data entry, these integrations have also improved data quality and completeness, resulting in reports and dashboards that provide useful and trustworthy information for the CoC’s users and providers, the community at large, and ultimately, for HUD. With this new service, RTFH was able to spend less time correcting data errors and more time analyzing data. That made it possible to surface vital data for use by policy makers.

“With Bitfocus,” said Kohler, “the technology is helping us share data and collaborate across our community to meet our mission and the mandates that we have to protect client level information; it’s user-friendly for the 1,200 people who have to enter data which has reduced support cases, decreasing response times. As a result, we have reallocated resources to training and community engagement which has increased HMIS participation in the community.” Having a user-friendly interface is crucial to the work of RTFH because the data sources they rely on from providers like shelters have multiple commitments, in addition to reporting statistics. With a simpler to use system, providers can spend less time inputting data and more time caring for those in need.

Migration advice

Changing HMIS providers requires funding, time, and staff to execute well. When other CoCs have asked RTFH for migration advice, Kohler told them, “Be intentional. Know what isn’t working about your existing system and how you are going to message it. Be ready to lead hard conversations about what to migrate now versus later. Stay on budget and on timeline because that’s where you’ll lose stakeholder support. Be transparent and don’t overcommit. Keep the process open so the community can evaluate the usability and functionality offered by each HMIS solution. This earns service provider trust early and increases engagement during retraining.”

Zeggeye added, “While the ability to customize seems like a good idea, too many customizations erode simplicity and consistency which makes it harder to manage the system. Pick a provider who is a good listener and has the vision to turn feedback into new features that benefit all CoCs so you don’t have to resort to customizations to find workarounds.”

Using AWS to implement a solutions based approach to delivery

Bitfocus was founded by Robert Herdzik, an HMIS administrator, who wanted a better way to streamline HMIS case management, outreach and engagement, and coordinated entry system activities. Clarity Human Services’ user-friendly reporting and data analytics features provide communities like San Diego with a solid foundation for whole person care services and evidence-based decision making. Clarity Human Services is used in over 75 communities, has touched over 3.5 million lives, and helped almost 700,000 people move into housing.

Bitfocus made sure that their cloud-based offering Clarity Human Services is secure, scalable, and efficient by building according to the pillars of the AWS Well-Architected Framework. Their solution runs in Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) and uses Application Load Balancer to automatically scale up the number of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances in response to increased demand, and scale down when the loads are lower. They use the fully-managed Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) to store data securely and reliably across multiple geographic Availability Zones (AZs), and manage their domain name service and networking using Amazon Route 53 and AWS Transit Gateway. By taking advantage of managed services, Bitfocus has reduced their operational costs and can run their services at peak efficiency.

Available on AWS Marketplace

Public sector organizations need to balance extensive regulatory and compliance obligations with cost-effective procurement strategies. AWS Marketplace helps to simplify and streamline procurement for public sector organizations, enabling them to spend their budgets driving their missions forward rather than on administrative overhead. Learn more about Bitfocus on AWS Marketplace.

AWS Marketplace is now available through a nationwide cooperative contract with OMNIA Partners. To learn more about the contract or request a consultation, visit the AWS Marketplace OMNIA Partners contract site today.

Learn more about how the cloud helps communities prevent and combat housing instability. Are you a nonprofit that wants to learn more about how cloud computing can accelerate your mission? Do you have questions about how AWS can help your government agency provide innovative services for constituents? Reach out the AWS Public Sector team.

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