AWS Public Sector Blog

Visualizing an end to homelessness with new HUD data tool

More than 400 regional and local organizations working to address homelessness in the United States are using a new tool by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to better understand and address the homelessness challenge. Those agencies, also known as “Continuums of Care (CoCs),” can use the tool to visualize the situation they are helping address and optimize their responses.

HUD’s new tool gives communities insights into homelessness services gaps and trends.

HUD’s new tool gives communities insights into homelessness services gaps and trends.

The new strategy and analysis tool, Stella, pulls from a comprehensive dataset that all CoCs produce, called the Longitudinal Systems Analysis (LSA). Stella is made up of two modules. The first module, Stella P, focuses on performance analysis, measuring the days an individual is homeless, exits to permanent housing, and returns to the system within a six month period. The second module, Stella M (to be released in 2020), is a modeling tool to understand how changes in resources affect performance.

“Stella is a new tool that lets you see your LSA data in exciting new ways. It gives you insight into what’s going on in your homelessness system and present complex ideas to your partners. I’m incredibly excited about it,” said Norm Suchar, Director of HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs, which supports the nationwide commitment to ending homelessness.

Stella has already proven to be a success with the communities adopting it. “It allowed us to easily understand and visualize certain data points. For example, I can look at a homelessness population and see the number of exits to permanent destinations, and who is returning to the homeless system after they have a permanent housing option,” said Victoria Lopez, Data and Policy Analyst at the Texas Homelessness Network, the leading advocacy and educational organization on homelessness in Texas. Instead of building a query in HMIS, data analysts can refer to Stella P to understand how and where performance is lagging and identify the right interventions. “It tells us ways our systems can improve.”

The tool is increasing the capacity of those organizations to respond to the homeless crisis. “Our HMIS team is made up of five people and we cover over 107 agencies. We do not always have the time, resources, or capacity to sit down and do this kind of work. Stella took that burden off…It will ultimately be a game changer for us,” said Lopez.

Abt Associates developed Stella, which runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS). “This tool provides the analytics that empower communities to obtain insights from their data and be able to act on them,” said David Pulaski, Associate Director of Enabling Technologies at Abt Associates.

HUD’s new tool utilizes Amazon Lambda and Amazon Aurora Serverless to enhance performance at a fraction of the cost.

HUD’s new tool utilizes Amazon Lambda and Amazon Aurora Serverless to enhance performance at a fraction of the cost.

“With the challenge to devise a solution that can perform intense computations at a large scale while keeping operational costs down, utilizing a traditional development approach would have produced a very costly and inefficient system. Our development team decided to utilize AWS’s serverless technologies, such as AWS Lambda and Amazon Aurora Serverless, allowing us to build a system that can scale on demand and accommodate the continuous refinements of the analytic focus. This serverless system allows the application code to be fully distributed, resulting in a great increase in performance at a fraction of the cost,” said Pulaski.

HUD is improving Stella and increasing the ability of CoCs to use it for planning and performance. Read more about Stella and learn more about how AWS customers and partners are using technology to address the homelessness crisis.

Maysam Ali

Maysam Ali

Maysam Ali is global content lead for the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Institute, based in Washington, DC. She writes about how technology helps solve challenges in the public sector. The AWS Institute helps break down barriers between public, private, and nonprofit sectors to identify common problems and engage technology experts to find a path forward. For more information on the AWS Institute, visit https://aws.amazon.com/institute/.