Thanks to a new electronic survey app resulting from Tampa !p CodaPalooza, the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI) is able to conduct its required annual Point-in-Time (P.I.T.) survey more efficiently and accurately now. An accurate count and survey of the local homeless population is essential for qualifying for state and federal funds needed to fund homeless services, identifying the community’s needs, and deploying resources.
The app was born from a “Gimme Shelter” themed CodaPalooza held in conjunction with the 2016 National Day of Civic Hacking event. Code for Tampa Bay assisted !p with the event which was held at Crossover Church from June 3rd through June 5th of 2016. Teams of two or more developers were presented with a choice of ten modules focused on addressing homelessness and competed to develop technology-based solutions. 120 people participated, including “TEAM SUPPORT”, sponsored by Accusoft, which included employees James Waugh and Zak Miller. Their team took second prize, but their product would eventually result in the new electronic P.I.T. survey app.
Antonio Byrd, Chief Operating Officer for THHI, is a tech advocate who saw great potential from the CodaPalooza app. “I really felt like the P.I.T. project would provide the most bang for the buck of all of the modules,” said Byrd.
Following CodaPalooza the teams had meet-ups once a month for the next six months to refine their project before delivering presentations at Tampa !p‘s Innovation Gathering that October. THHI decided that a fully developed electronic P.I.T. survey was worth investing in and called for proposals. That’s when Waugh and Miller co-founded Hyperion Data and applied for the contract. Another company won the bid, but when that company was unable to complete the project, Miller and Waugh stepped up and delivered what THHI needed.
In late February the app was up and running as the 2019 P.I.T. count commenced. Before this year, volunteers – approximately 400 of them – fanned out across the county with clipboards and paper surveys talking with people to determine their housing situations and factors that influence and result from homelessness.
“The challenge was to make sure it would support the amount of data and concurrent users with about 400 volunteers using it at once,” said Waugh. “Stress testing and bulletproofing it were key.”
“The value for THHI was for it to be a smart survey,” Miller added.
That’s because a respondent’s answers to the P.I.T. survey determine which follow-up questions may be skipped and which to ask. So, volunteers had to flip through pages to find the next relevant question, sometimes mistakenly skipping questions that should have been asked.
Since the survey collects personal information encryption and security were the highest priority. THHI also wanted the ability for staff without developer skills to be able to make updates to the survey in the future. One of the biggest improvements is that surveys now have geotagging. Whereas the paper survey identified a zip code for each respondent, the new digital survey can pinpoint the respondent on a map and heat maps can be created so THHI staff and volunteers now have more accurate data on where homeless people are throughout the county and can better deploy services.
THHI’s Homeless Management Information System Manager, Ashley Wynn, says the app saves a lot of time on the back end as well. “It’s a time-saver and a step up in efficiency. With the paper survey there was about a day and a half of people entering the data into the system. This year that process was cut in at least half.”
“Reading hand-writing was a data entry challenge as well,” added Byrd.
This year about 30% of the P.I.T. surveys were entered using the digital app and Byrd says they will ramp up training and usage next year, which will further increase efficiency. He would also like to make the survey available in Spanish and explore developing an outreach app.
“Because of the work Zak and James did on the P.I.T. app, THHI is planning an outreach app so the outreach committee can better locate people,” Byrd said.
As for Hyperion Data, the company born from the CodaPalooza, James Waugh says they are always looking for the next thing.
The 2018 P.I.T. survey identified 1795 homeless persons in Hillsborough County. This year’s count is expected to be announced in May or June.