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San Francisco turns to big data to fight homeless crisis

FILE - A view of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California on December 23, 2017.
FILE - A view of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California on December 23, 2017. NurPhoto / Getty Images

San Francisco is turning to big data to help ease its homeless crisis.

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The city has been quietly crafting a system to closely track every homeless man, woman and child, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday.

The purpose is two-fold: to tailor housing, rehabilitation and other services to them, but also to eliminate wasteful duplication of those efforts.

The idea is that homelessness counsellors and people running shelters would be able to quickly access health, housing, jail and counselling information for each homeless person.

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Judge orders couple who raised $400K for homeless man to turn over funds
Judge orders couple who raised $400K for homeless man to turn over funds

Those details would allow them to determine appropriate services, while guiding them away from whatever didn’t work.

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The rollout of what’s been dubbed the One System began last month. Eventually, the city hopes to see a drop in the number of homeless people and less mess on the streets.

“I’m really excited about this,” Mayor London Breed, who has advocated for a better tracking system since being elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2012, told the newspaper. “People say we need to fix the problem, get people off the street – well, it’s not that simple.”

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The mayor said the new system provides “the big picture” for each person. Its goal is to tie together information scattered across more than a dozen city departments.

“The trouble has always been that one person would be in one system, and another would go to get help somewhere else,” the mayor said. “And then they’d have to do a lot of different interviews with different places. Some people would give up, or not get sent to the right places.”

Tightly co-ordinated tracking systems have helped reduce the homeless counts in recent years in Salt Lake City, Chicago, Houston and other cities