App could help outreach workers connect people experiencing homelessness with services

The City of Long Beach took a step toward potentially developing an app to help city employees better connect those experiencing homelessness with services in and around the city.

A unanimous vote by the City Council Tuesday night initiated a process where the city will look at the feasibility of partnering with an app developer to possibly design a Long Beach specific version that could help identify where open shelter beds, detox beds and other services are located in real time.

The item was brought to the council by Councilwoman Suzie Price who has proposed a number of items over the past few years which sought the add to the city’s efforts to combat homelessness.

While the city has made strides over the past decade to draw down the number of people experiencing homelessness living in the city this year’s biennial homeless count revealed that the number of people in Long Beach who were either sheltered or unsheltered rose by 31 to 1,894.

2019 homeless count reveals small increase in Long Beach as populations swell elsewhere

That increase paled in comparison to other regional counts which saw Los Angeles County (12% increase) and Orange County (40% increase) report dramatically higher counts over previous years.

Price said that having such an app could help Long Beach employees who do outreach work with those experiencing homelessness connect them with the services they might need at crucial times.

“Sometimes that window where someone has a moment of clarity can be brief and if we’re lucky enough to have an outreach officer reach out at that moment we cannot miss the opportunity because the officer had to call around looking for somewhere that would admit that homeless individual at that exact moment,” Price said.

Price’s memo asked the city manager’s office to work with an app developer like Get Help, a Los Angeles-based company that has worked with cities like Los Angeles recently to create a localized pilot program for its first responders.

If the city decides to move forward with the app’s development it could help co-locate the city’s food pantries, shelters, detox, sobriety and mental health services in one digital location which could make it easier to connect those in need with available services.

There is currently no cost estimate attached to the proposed app development but a feasibility report is expected back before the City Council within 60 days.

The city has had successes with localized apps. The city’s GoLongBeach app which allows residents to report issues ranging from curb repairs to potholes to illegally dumped items has seen the city’s public works department respond to thousands of requests annually to clean up dumped items across the city.

“Without question the GoLongBeach app has changed the way that public works and code enforcement and our clean teams work today because of the work of our city staff and the way that the public has embraced it,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “We have opened and closed tens of thousands of cases, maybe even a hundred thousand cases by now.”

Garcia said that the issue of homelessness remains as the city’s largest challenge but said that giving people a portal to help report issues could create an opportunity to assist the city address the issue collectively.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.