Interview with Jennifer Padgett: Executive Director of Community Technology Alliance and Housing 1000 partner
Imagine you lost your job six months ago
and kept telling yourself something else would come along, until finally you just couldn’t make rent. Now you’re driving to a hospital for surgery and you don’t know where you’ll sleep tonight. You need someplace dry and warm to recover, but you figure you’ll have to spend the night in your car. When you check into the hospital, though, they ask if you have an HMIS card. You blink, and then remember that a couple weeks ago you went to the food bank—trying to make your minimal savings stretch a little further—and they had indeed issued you a card. When it swipes, the clerk looks up and asks where you’re staying tonight. You admit that you don’t have any place to go.
Thirty minutes later, you are signed up for a bed in an emergency shelter and an initial appointment with a case manager to help get you hooked up to employment training, food stamps and your next permanent housing.
This is the future according to Jennifer Padgett, executive director of San Jose’s Community Technology Alliance (CTA). A member of the leadership team of Housing 1000, Jen takes care of the technical side of our efforts to end homelessness.
Scroll down for her interview!
K: What does CTA do exactly?
J: Our main project is the Homeless Management Information System, or HMIS, which was originally designed to help organizations within a community to collectively know how many unduplicated folks they are serving and to help measure how well they help homeless people.
K: What did society do to measure homelessness, before HMIS?
J: We had what’s called a “Point-in-Time” count. It was done in just one night, though there were also some follow-up interviews. We still do that now, actually, but the problem is there’s no context to it. There was no way to use that data to see why they ended up in that situation and what might help them. But because HMIS data is collected continuously, it allows service providers to meet real needs.
K: What does this new system mean for individual homeless men and women, walking into a shelter?
J: It means firstly a worker will collect basic information from a person and get consent to share it. Then we try to give people a swipe card that’s connected to their profile. That way, every time the person comes in to get help, the information about what services they’ve used goes into the system. We can use that data to look for the interventions that are working.
K: How does HMIS work with Housing 1000?
J: During Registry Week volunteers entered data about homeless men and women into a web form which sent info straight to HMIS.
We also created technology that allowed volunteers to take photos of homeless clients with smart phones and then upload that to their profiles on HMIS. That way, case managers can find homeless men and women later to try and connect them to housing as part of the Housing 1000 campaign. Having photographs is really important since Housing 1000 participants obviously don’t have permanent fixed addresses.
K: Have you had any “aha!” moments in your experience with HMIS?
J: Quite a few. One of them is the whole chronic homelessness issue — we’ve started seeing that a number of our clients keep coming back to the shelters over and over again. Things like that really highlight the need for programs like Housing 1000.
K: Let’s say I’m an at-risk individual. 50 years from now, what would happen if I just had surgery and I need someplace to sleep but only have 50 bucks. What do you see happening?
J: Well, ideally nobody who’s at-risk for homelessness would be left to deal with that on their own. You would be flagged when checking into the hospital as somebody who needs help, and referred to shelter and services.
K: Any last words you’d like to share?
J: Yes! To me, Housing 1000 is really important — we’re doing some groundbreaking work here and it’s very visible and can provide the impetus for further change. It helps to put Housing First and intensive case management into place—I’ve seen similar initiatives house people around the country.
Read the recent Mercury News article featuring Jennifer Padgett and Community Technology Alliance!
Interview conducted by Katherine Erickson.
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