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County launches online system to connect homeless people with assistance

County launches online system to connect homeless people with assistance
The homepage of the new Homeless Outreach Portal is the starting point to report a homeless person needing help. (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority)

When someone spots a homeless person who needs help, there are many places to call:

The police, a City Council office, a homeless services provider such as PATH, the L.A. City 311 line, or the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

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What happens with each call could be different, depending on the resources the person fielding it happens to be networked with. Those working in the system concede that it is cumbersome, if not chaotic.

At last, there will be one place for every call for help to go and one system to get it into the right hands. It’s not a telephone number, but an internet address: www.la-hop.org.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority unveiled the Homeless Outreach Portal, an online reporting system that can be used by computer, tablet or phone, and is translated into the seven most widely spoken languages in Los Angeles County.

The website is a central entry point to Los Angeles County’s expanded homeless outreach system. Based on the location entered into the online form, the report will be quickly routed to one of the 500 outreach workers now on the streets.

Information on the condition of the person will help get the request to the right kind of outreach team, whether generalists or physical or mental health specialists.

In announcing the new portal, homeless authority officials also set limits on how it should be used and what it can accomplish.

It is not the right tool to request homeless camp cleanups or trash removal, said Colleen Murphy, who oversees outreach for the authority.

For those services, calls should still go to city agencies such as the police or sanitation bureau.

People who file a report on the portal will receive an automated confirmation that it was received, but the system is not set up to provide further follow-up, Murphy said.

But they shouldn’t assume that the homeless person will be quickly removed. The initial response can take up to 72 hours, Murphy said. And it can take multiple visits over a long period to build rapport and connect the person to services.

Most of the portal’s work occurs outside public view.

The electronic reports will go through an initial review to screen out any that are not relevant to homelessness, then passed on to a regional outreach coordinator who will forward it to the appropriate team.

The request, called a ticket, will remain open until an outreach worker makes contact with the homeless person or is unable to make contact after several attempts, Murphy said.

The system is not designed to track what happens after that. Further contact with the person is entered into another database, the Homeless Management Information System.

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Murphy said the homeless authority is now working on integrating those two data systems.

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