As evidenced by the Maidstone model, data analytics and predictive modeling will play an indispensable role in enabling us to realize a very big vision — a world in which everyone has a reliable roof over their heads.
Against that backdrop, it’s important to stress that the roadmap for preventing homelessness has to contain components beyond just better avenues for using data. It must also include shrewd approaches for dealing with complex issues such as funding, standards, governance, cultural differences and informed consent to permit the exchange of personal information, among others. Perhaps most importantly, the work needs to be championed by organizational and governmental leaders who believe transformative, systemic change is possible and are committed to achieving it.
Introducing the Smart Safety Net
To move forward, human services organizations need to look beyond modernizing service delivery to transforming it, and to evolve from integration to intuitive design. New technologies provide opportunities to truly rethink and redesign in ways that would have been impossible in the past.
A Smart Safety Net can shape a bold new future for social care. Doing so will require broad, fundamental changes at an organizational level, more collaboration across agencies, data integration and greater care co-ordination. At its heart, a Smart Safety Net entails:
- A system-wide approach to addressing the needs of each individual and family, including pooled funding that supports coordination so that, for example, users in one program are automatically enrolled in other programs for which they are eligible.
- Human-centered design that genuinely integrates the recipients of services (patients, clients, customers, etc.), as well as their experiences and insights, into the creation and implementation of policies, systems and services that affect them.
- Data-driven policy, services, workflows, automation and security to improve processes, save money and facilitate accurate, real-time decision-making, especially to advance the overarching priority of nearly every program and service; that is, early intervention and prevention.
- Frontline case workers who are supported and empowered to focus on their core purpose. With a lower administrative burden, they are able to invest more time in building relationships with vulnerable constituents and act as “coaches” to improve people’s lives.
- Outcomes-based commissioning of services, measured against a more holistic wellbeing framework, from an ecosystem of public, private and not-for-profit providers, with government acting as system stewards and service integrators.
Rarely in human services will you hear the phrase “money is not the primary issue.” But eradicating homelessness will require much more than additional funding. This problem existed long before the pandemic and will likely continue to exist long into the future. To the extent that emergency funds are available, they certainly are sorely needed. At the same time, digital tools and knowledge resources can provide governments — especially at the local level — with tailored solutions that help to remove obstacles relating to technology, third-party vendors and application processes.
Most pointedly, in our view, skeptics who say there is no answer to homelessness are missing something. The key is in integrating the abundant amount of data held on systems across agencies and how to best use the insights to enable early intervention. Government, with its place at the head of the table, has the opportunity to know more and do more than the innumerable private organizations, online groups and nonprofits that are working to end homelessness.