The number of rough sleepers has been on the rise since 2010 and this trend is expected to continue, states homelessness charity Crisis. But data is playing a role in helping those affected.
Agencies that provide support to homeless people include local authorities, hostels and shelters, but in London members of the public can also help. Outreach workers who patrol the streets looking for rough sleepers to connect them to services can be alerted through the StreetLink referral line.
StreetLink volunteer Aris Tsontzos, at a conference on Data and Tech for Good organised by Analysis Marketing, explained that Joe Public can contact the St Mungo’s charity rough sleeper referral line by phone, web or smartphone app (for more information, visit homeless.org.uk). With a description, time and location, the outreach workers can try to locate that homeless person and then see if there is any information on them on the CHAIN database.
CHAIN, the Combined Homeless and Information Network, is commissioned by the Greater London Authority and is run under license by St Mungo’s. Essentially, it allows for client records and case histories to be logged. “It allows us to track the movement of rough sleepers, including services they have accessed and what help those services have offered,” said Tsontzos.
He stressed that data protection is taken extremely seriously. Before a client’s information is entered into CHAIN, they have to sign a data protection statement which explains what CHAIN is and how their data might be shared. The sharing of data between agencies means that the service users can receive appropriate support and that efforts to help them are not duplicated.
Tsontzos gave an example of how CHAIN was utilised during the Crisis at Christmas advice sessions offered during the holiday period. He said: “Our time with each client was limited and we tried to get an outcome for every person who came in. Luckily, an army of volunteer administrators would ask the everyone a few questions, look them up on CHAIN and give us a very quick briefing before we saw each guest.”
The advisers were able to save time in the sessions, but the benefit to the user was even greater as they did not have to explain their situation to yet another agency. Tsontzos said “I’ve seen first hand how traumatising it can be for a homeless person to have to retell their story four, five, six times. CHAIN alleviates a lot of that angst.”
CHAIN has also given staff at St Mungo’s a new skillset resulting in another revenue stream. The expertise they have built up in data handling has allowed them to create a social enterprise, Real Systems, with 100% of the profit going to the charity. Within the social enterprise, they design and set up client monitoring systems and offer support and training to other agencies and local authorities.
For Tsontzos, the advantages of using CHAIN are clear. “With data, we are all in pursuit of that elusive single customer view. With CHAIN, the information is all there, making it easier to work together.” It also gives peace of mind to the outreach workers and advisers who are able to look up referrals from previous shifts and see how they have been assisted.
There are many factors contributing to the rise in homeless, but systems like CHAIN make it a little bit easier for support services to co-ordinate their efforts. As Tsontzos said, “we can make sure that all organisations are using their resources effectively and efficiently, doing their best to work together and provide good outcomes for their clients.”