Tracking the Homeless

Merced County's streets are a disturbing sign of the times. Rising foreclosure and unemployment rates have added to the area's already high homeless population.

Robert Blay, Homeless: "It's very hard. It's cold, wet, and you get hungry."

The transient nature of these families and individuals makes it difficult for the county to know exactly how many people they're helping and what services they need.

That's why the Merced County Action Agency is using a recent federal grant to upgrade and expand its tracking system.

Loren Hoffmann, Bowman Systems Sr. Consultant: "We are here this week doing training and implementing what's known as an HMIS system, Homeless Management Information System. It's a software on the internet that is used by community agencies to record services they are providing to the homeless population."

The information includes everything from age, gender and ethnicity to disabilities, past military experience, and the types and duration of services used. Along with recording the information, agencies issue ID cards that can be scanned for quick access to the data. Action Agency Deputy Director Su Briggs says the system will be used for national statistics and to secure federal funding to continue helping the homeless locally.

Su Briggs, Merced Co. Action Agency: "It will allow us to say yes we are all providing these services, yes they are needed in this area."

Consultant Loren Hoffman says in other areas where this system is in place, there has been little concern from the homeless about protecting their privacy. In fact, he says most people like the idea of not having to fill out multiple forms every time they seek help. And he says it helps communities understand what really works when it comes to getting the homeless off the streets.

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