The City of St. Louis Homeless Services Division coordinates a number of different services that support residents facing homelessness. The team utilized a complex spreadsheet to track the status of the different touchpoints people needed to go through in order to place individuals in housing. When the agency received additional funding for their services, they wanted to significantly ramp up their ability to quickly house more people. However, their existing workflow couldn’t handle all the new information - there was simply too much data and projects moved too fast to truly analyze the information.
The City of St. Louis was fortunate enough to have funding to expand homeless services to meet rapidly expanding demand. Managing the increased caseload stretched city staff thin at a time when there was also a need to use data to streamline program operations and better understand the effectiveness of program expansions. Understanding all this, the team needed to:
- Structure data to make it easier to manage and gather insights from
- Set up automations so that case managers know when they need to update case information
- Gather data from forms to reduce meeting time devoted to data collection
- Create a dashboard that shows the success of the program
U.S. Digital Response worked directly with Wilford Pinkney, the Director, Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, and Amy Bickford, Chief Program Manager, Homeless Services Division, to learn about St. Louis’s original spreadsheet workflow and evaluated tools that could help and be easy for the team to maintain. The team replaced the workflow with an Airtable database, creating time-saving automations and data migration. First, the team migrated the data from their original spreadsheet to Airtable, ensuring that the data was cleaned up and structured in a way that made it easier for the St. Louis team to find information. Then, USDR added automations to collect data directly from the case managers, rather than having the team report out the information in time-consuming meetings. Finally, USDR added summary reporting through the Airtable interface, streamlining St. Louis’ ability to report out questions about program effectiveness and cleanly displaying data about their programs they previously did not have access to. Along the way, USDR coached and trained the St. Louis team on the Airtable system to ensure they can operate the process for the long-term.
This effort was part of a unique partnership which involved several fellows from the Google.org Fellowship Program.
“USDR was able to take our program’s unique needs, understand it, and train our team on a new tool. It was all amazing at how I was able to pick it up because USDR was able to partner with me.”
On average, the team in St. Louis serves approximately 100 households in a year. The implementation of these new tools have helped the program grow its work to serve over 700 households this year already. The team reported time savings of up to 30 hours a week updating their spreadsheet, because automations now do all the work. In part because of time saved, they’ve already had the ability to house nearly 300 households and cut the average time to place a resident in a home from 90 days to 27. The team also reported that now that team members can own their own data rather than relying on one person to manually enter everything into a spreadsheet, they are able to spend time together in meetings covering “bigger” topics that they didn’t previously have time to cover.
“Every week [we] were demoing and gathering feedback on what was working and not working, checking our assumptions on what was needed and…how [the team] could improve their design. It’s great to see projects like St. Louis having a broader impact as case studies for others to learn from.”