Simtech Solutions has taken the foundation of its Counting US app and adjusted the survey questions to screen people who are homeless for symptoms of COVID-19. The Health and Wellness assessment asks questions, such as whether the person has had any flu-like symptoms in the past 14 days, and logs age ranges, veteran status and chronic health conditions to identify high-risk individuals.
This year’s count marked the first time that Spokane tested the “Counting Us” app, which lets volunteers input survey answers via smartphones and send them straight to the command center. Companies like Simtech Solutions, developers of the Counting Us app, and Esri, which provides a similar service through its Survey123 platform, tout that the use of GIS technology allows volunteers to pinpoint the exact location the information is gathered, and in real time.
For the 2019 count, Augusta switched from paper to digital tools from Simtech Solutions. Now, volunteers use the Counting US app — usually on their own mobile devices — to enter data on the number of people experiencing homelessness they see during the count period and to surveys some of them, asking questions about age, health and veteran status, for example, to give the local and federal government a better picture of trends in homelessness.
Everybody Counts also had committed to higher-quality data, deciding to be one of the first Continuums in the county to equip its volunteers with an “app” – Simtech Solutions’ Counting Us app – to collect information. Gone were the “pile of blue paper forms” that, in counts past, were manually, slowly and sometimes incompletely filled out, replaced by “smart phones” or tablets donated by the Wal-Mart Foundation. More questions could be asked, interviews could be completed more quickly and more people could be counted. And with a push of the “send” button, the information could be tabulated almost instantly and the analysis of the numbers behind the top-line number could begin almost as quickly.
Simtech’s Counting Us app was developed to help the homeless community, but it recently found a surprising and welcome use: disaster recovery.
As the COVID-19 outbreak began, advocates and public health officials grew concerned for the more than half a million people experiencing homelessness. Homeless populations are particularly vulnerable because they have higher rates of serious underlying health problems, generally lack access to quality health care, and have no way to self-quarantine. This prompted many communities to implement interventions to reduce the risk of exposure for people experiencing homelessness.
Matt Simmonds, Simtech Solutions founder and president, relocated his company to San Diego from Massachusetts last year. He’s been focused on Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) for 20 years, after pivoting from working for financial institutions.
Kansas City, Missouri, and Houston are among the cities using apps from Massachusetts-based Simtech Solutions designed to better survey people experiencing homelessness and connect volunteers to aid services. The company’s Counting Us app, which helps volunteers input demographic and location information to the Point in Time (PIT) count, will be used in at least 50 regions, Simtech founder and President Matt Simmons said.
Several mobile apps are used to collect PIT count data across the country, but Counting Us is the first and most widely used. The app was developed by Simtech Solutions in 2012. Matt Simmonds, president of Simtech Solutions, says “in order to fix a problem, you have to understand it. That is where we come in. There is a person behind each number.”
Through the collaboration between Miracle Messages and Simtech Solutions, there is renewed hope and another option for so many of those experiencing homelessness: Reconnecting with loved ones—be they, family members, or friends. Family reunification is a cost-effective alternative to building and maintaining shelters and housing.