County of­fi­cials look to de­fine home­less­ness

The Signal - - News - By Jim Holt Sig­nal Se­nior Staff WRiter jholt@sig­ 661-287-5527

At first blush, this week’s call by county su­per­vi­sors for new and bet­ter ways of iden­ti­fy­ing home­less­ness ap­pears sim­ple.

Some­one who is home­less is some­one with­out a home — home­less­ness iden­ti­fied.

Not so fast, say those on the front­line of bat­tling home­less­ness. Defin­ing the prob­lem re­mains chal­leng­ing and con­stantly shift­ing, they say.

Last week, the Los An­ge­les County Board of Su­per­vi­sors ap­proved a mo­tion put for­ward by

Su­per­vi­sors Kathryn Barger and Hilda L. So­lis, di­rect­ing county agen­cies to re­port back on ef­forts to in­te­grate new data-col­lec­tion tools that will bet­ter iden­tify and help the home­less.

“It is crit­i­cal that Mea­sure H dol­lars are used ef­fi­ciently by al­lo­cat­ing fund­ing for ser­vices and hous­ing where they will have great­est im­pact,” said Barger.

“This ef­fort seeks to uti­lize in­no­va­tive new data col­lec­tion and anal­y­sis tools cur­rently be­ing de­vel­oped by lo­cal re­search in­sti­tu­tions.”

No one is more in tune with the ur­gent need for col­lect­ing data on L.A.’s home­less than Phil Ansell, di­rec­tor of the County of Los An­ge­les Home­less Ini­tia­tive.

A quick screen­ing of his YouTube video says it all — data gath­ered at the Home­less Count is crit­i­cal to the coun­ty­wide move­ment to com­bat home­less­ness.

Pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics

On Fri­day, Ansell told The Sig­nal that the county’s mo­tion is less about count­ing num­bers and more about ef­fi­cient num­ber­crunch­ing and a more ac­cu­rate read­ing of the data gath­ered.

“This mo­tion fo­cuses on max­i­miz­ing ef­fec­tive use of re­search tech­nol­ogy such as pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics,” he said. “It’s a step be­yond count­ing.”

The field of pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics is be­ing pi­o­neered by spe­cial­ized groups at both UCLA and USC.

“They ba­si­cally pre­dict fu­ture high costs more ef­fec­tively,” Ansell said.

And, while those tools are be­ing sharp­ened, the def­i­ni­tion of home­less re­mains fluid.

The county’s def­i­ni­tion of home­less is the one used by the Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment.

Couch surf­ing

A phone call to Wash­ing­ton, DC, and to a HUD rep­re­sen­ta­tive Fri­day re­vealed that defin­ing home­less­ness is a work in progress.

Is some­one sleep­ing and liv­ing in their car con­sid­ered home­less?

A HUD rep­re­sen­ta­tive who spoke on back­ground said “yes” but that some­one “couch­surf­ing” is not con­sid­ered home­less.

Six years ago, HUD of­fi­cials felt the need to re­de­fine home­less­ness. They broke it down into four cat­e­gories.

County su­per­vi­sors, while mar­ried to the HUD def­i­ni­tion, are now lis­ten­ing to broader def­i­ni­tions for home­less­ness.

“The (Cal­i­for­nia) Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices and other state pro­grams like it al­lows its clients to self de­clare their home­less sta­tus,” Ansell said.

Those agen­cies con­sider “couch­surf­ing” — mov­ing from res­i­dence to res­i­dence — as be­ing home­less.

County agen­cies have less than 90 days to in­te­grate new data-col­lec­tion tools that would bet­ter iden­tify and help the home­less.

Univer­sity labs

As Barger and So­lis pointed out in the ex­panded ver­sion of their mo­tion, they’re hang­ing their hats on the pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics pur­sued by lo­cal univer­sity pol­icy re­search groups.

Their mo­tion reads: “Var­i­ous aca­demic and re­search in­sti­tu­tions are presently work­ing to de­velop method­olo­gies to bet­ter col­lect in­for­ma­tion on the in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies who are cur­rently home­less in L.A. County, as well as on in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies most at risk of be­com­ing home­less.

“The Cal­i­for­nia Pol­icy Lab at UCLA and Ur­ban Labs at the Univer­sity of Chicago, for ex­am­ple, are jointly part­ner­ing with CEO to de­velop pre­dic­tive sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els that draw on County and HMIS ad­min­is­tra­tive data to iden­tify in­di­vid­u­als who are most likely to be­come home­less or likely to be­come home­less high -cost uti­liz­ers of county ser­vices.

“The Home­less­ness Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute at USC con­venes re­searchers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to help de­sign and co­or­di­nate timely, rel­e­vant, and ac­tion­able re­search to com­bat and pre­vent home­less­ness in Los An­ge­les County.

“HPRI is sup­port­ing the devel­op­ment of pre­dic­tive an­a­lytic screen­ing tools to iden­tify newly home­less in­di­vid­u­als who are at high risk of chronic home­less­ness, with a fo­cus on pop­u­la­tions of em­ploy­able adults and foster youth.”

By sharp­en­ing the tools that break down the amount of money spent in the past on high-cost users of county ser­vices, the more ef­fec­tively county of­fi­cials can dole out $26.6 mil­lion in fund­ing in the fu­ture.

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