On any given night across America, more than half a million people are experiencing homelessness. But efforts to help them have often been hobbled by the limited ability of local government agencies, non-profits and support organizations to share information.
That’s changing, however, thanks to efforts by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and its network of technology partners to help these organizations utilize the power of cloud-enabled data sharing and analytics capabilities.
People experiencing housing instability interact with a variety of different agencies and organizations. But because the information and case management systems used by these organizations don’t talk to each other, that makes it challenging both for those seeking help as well as case workers trying to coordinate care.
But the lack of shared, real time and comprehensive data about who is experiencing housing instability also makes it difficult for community leaders and advocates to identify emerging needs or make data-driven decisions about the effective deployment of resources, according to Jessie Metcalf, who heads up strategic programs for U.S. state and local government, health and human services at Amazon Web Services.
What’s needed are ways to help communities connect data across siloed systems, says Metcalf. That’s prompted the nation’s leading cloud services provider and its network of partners and developers to work with federal, state and local governments, nonprofits, and philanthropists to help communities build bridges between digital divides, according to a new FedScoop report underwritten by AWS.
Data sharing networks
The report highlights work being done at a local, regional and national level where agencies and organizations are using cloud applications to pool and analyze information to deploy resources more effectively.
The Texas Homeless Network (THN), for instance, is among a growing roster of organizations that have begun to leverage the cloud to connecting databases, prompted by the disruption of Hurricane Harvey, which forced thousands of families out of their homes to relocate inland across Texas.
“The data systems, which tracked personal information, level of need, and approvals for services, were all left behind in the community they were forced to depart [leaving them effectively] anonymous where they arrived,” said Ben King, Clinical Assistant Professor of Public Health at the University of Texas at Austin and THN board member. THN collaborated with AWS Partner Green River to build and deploy a data sharing network connecting Texas’s 11 homeless crisis response systems together using a variety of AWS compute, storage and analytics services.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which gives out $2 billion dollars a year to more than 400 regional and local organizations working to address homelessness, also uses AWS cloud services, to track the effectiveness of those funds and to help those organizations use shared data to make better decisions.
Brett McMillen, director of U.S. federal at Amazon Web Services, points to HUD’s data gathering solution in the report as an example of how “it’s not just what AWS brings to the table, but it’s what all of our partners and everybody that builds on top of AWS are able to bring to the table.”
HUD’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA) unit, which provides mortgage insurance on loans made by FHA-approved lenders, has also seen significant benefits working with AWS, according to Olivia Peterson, who leads the U.S. Federal Financial Services business at AWS. FHA uses AWS not only to automate data collection, “but also be able to forecast… and get ahead in identifying some of the risk that they have in their lender profiles,” says Peterson.
The report also highlights a variety of other initiatives where AWS and its partners are helping local organizations learn how to use the cloud to address homelessness, including:
- Wildfire, an Arizona state association for Community Action Agencies that worked with AWS to deliver rental and utility financial assistance.
- The Orange County United Way in California, that worked with AWS to build a mobile app in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help more than 5,000 families in need with emergency funds for rental and utility payments.
- Streetlives in New York, that uses AWS technology to host GoGetta, a mobile website that enables people who are homeless or in poverty to easily locate up to date, verified, NYC social service information.
- My Digital Data Locker, in Baltimore, which gives individuals a secure place to manage and store digital copies of vital documents like birth certificates, proof of disability which are required to apply for housing.
Read the full report and learn more how AWS can help your agency discover the art of the possible.