City Rolls Out Tech Platform to Improve — and Ration — Shelter, Housing for the Homeless (SF Public Press)

Courtesy of SF Public Press.

A new piece by Rob Waters from SF Public Press:

San Francisco has begun rolling out a new technology platform that officials say will better help the homeless population by giving priority for shelter and housing to those with the greatest need. But by formalizing who has priority — and who doesn’t — the system also functions as a form of rationing of the city’s scarce affordable housing.

The new approach, known as coordinated entry, aims to replace a disjointed and cumbersome system that has forced people to visit programs scattered around the city, repeating their stories over and over to get help. It creates a standardized process for conducting intakes and evaluating needs, and designates two sites to handle the intake process for all families.

The new $4.9 million Online Navigation and Entry System merges 15 databases into one that tracks all people served by the city’s homelessness programs. Implementation began in June with families, and the city aims to expand to single adults by this summer and youth by the fall. That would fulfill a mandate outlined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2013 for cities receiving federal grants to address homelessness. Several other localities, including Santa Clara County, Los Angeles and Seattle, have deployed similar systems for several years.

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One Comment


    It’s not rationing. Rationing implies an overall reduction in supply. This system takes existing supply and allocates it according to new criteria. “First come first served” is not rationing. “Youngest people first” is not rationing. “Patients with critical injuries first” is not rationing. They are just systems for allocating an existing set of resources. Using the counterfactual and impliedly pejorative word “rationing” indicates the author thinks the prior semi-random and ad-hoc system was better. Which would be a fine perspective, but is not one the author actually presents, other than to give a moving anecdote about one family who may be de-prioritized under the new system. And while you might say that no families should ever be “de-prioritized” in a just system, you also wouldn’t say that all families (rich, poor, housed, not) should have equal priority to these resources. To be clear, there is rationing of homeless resources – we all choose how much money to contribute to this (taxes, donations, etc) rather than keeping in our pockets – but that happens at a much higher level than a prioritization system like this.

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