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County considers plan to track homeless by name, not number

A countywide database that lists homeless people by name could help agencies and nonprofits coordinate services and find greater success in getting people off the street, two county supervisors say in a proposal going before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Supervisors Jim Desmond and Tera Lawson-Remer argue that such a list already has been successful in helping reduce the homeless population of veterans and youth in the county. Tuesday’s proposal will ask county staff members to work with the community to explore the feasibility of a by-name list and return to the board with projected costs and staffing requirements within 90 days.

“There is no coordinated effort right now,” Desmond said Monday about the proposal. “This is going to transform the strategy to end homelessness.”

Desmond said the names on the list would not be made public, but would be in an internal system that would help homeless service providers keep track of clients who may move from one area of the county to another. Details of how the list would be compiled have not yet been worked out, but Desmond said participation from homeless people would be voluntary.

As an example of a benefit of the by-name list, Desmond said if someone who obtained mental health services in Chula Vista were to move to Oceanside, agencies in that North County city would be able to quickly see what treatment that person already has received.

Desmond said the suggestion for the list came from Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith Community Services in Escondido and a board member with the Regional Task Force on Homelessness.

Anglea said the list probably would begin in just a few communities as a pilot, but could expand to include the entire county within 12 to 18 months.

The by-name list would be the latest effort in coordinating homeless services throughout the county. The Regional Task Force on Homelessness is the lead agency in the county’s Homeless Management Information System, a software system mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for communities that receive federal funding for homeless programs. Data from the HMIS was used by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness to create its coordinated entry system to connect homeless people with housing, focusing first on the most vulnerable people in the population.

Anglea said that data only goes so far.

“It can measure a lot of activity in that system,” he said. “We can measure and report on the activities and successes of our our individual programs. But if we want to look at how many people are experiencing homelessness in Escondido, we actually don’t have that information.”

The annual point-in-time count does include the number of people on the street or in shelters in different cities on one specific night, but that number always has been considered imprecise. Anglea said the HMIS has its own shortcomings because it tracks people in programs, but doesn’t say their location. That could result in someone being identified as in Escondido if they receive services from Interfaith, which is based in that city, although the person actually is in San Marcos, he said.

By-name data already is used locally for two homeless subpopulations. In March 2021, the city of San Diego joined the national Built for Zero initiative aimed at reducing homelessness in veterans and youths. The initiatives uses by-name lists, and both subpopulations decreased in the 2022 count taken in February.

Anglea said another benefit of the by-name list will be to homeless people themselves, because they will not have to tell their personal story to every new service provider or outreach worker they meet.

Regional Task Force on Homelessness CEO Tamera Kohler said a countywide by-name list will help communities and homeless service providers gain a better understanding of who is homeless in their area.

“Instead of just working on their own programs, they’re going to work collectively on who they know in their community,” she said about how the list will help coordinate services for individuals.

By knowing individuals by name rather than just anonymous numbers in programs, Anglea and Kohler said the by-name list also will track people who enter and exit homelessness, giving a better idea of what progress is being made and what work still needs to be done.

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