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CAHRS Partner Company Partnered with Sonoma County to Reduce Homeless Population

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IBM's "How Data Integration can Help Weave a Stronger Social Safety net"

Over the years, Sonoma County devoted significant resources to addressing homelessness. “However, we were not seeing the outcomes we expected, with folks continuing to fall into homelessness, and not receive the long-term support they needed,” says Tina Rivera, Director of the Sonoma County Department of Health Services. “We needed to rethink, redesign, and come up with a better solution, a better service delivery for our clients, for people like Patricia and her son.”

Just like many other governments, Sonoma County had a siloed organizational structure, which impeded information sharing and coordinating services between departments. “We had a revolving door of clients getting served, one department at a time, but not really maintaining sustainable solutions,” says Carolyn Staats, Director of Innovation for Sonoma County Central IT. “We continued to have high rates of homelessness, and we needed to do something.”

After learning about how another large California county used IBM solutions to improve safety net services, Sonoma County managers also began consulting with IBM. “To collaborate, you need a way of getting data out of all these systems in a format that is very user friendly for the caseworkers.” says Staats. “That’s where IBM came in.”

To tap into the experience and knowledge of ACCESS Sonoma IMDT members, Sonoma County and IBM Consulting™ conducted an intensive IBM Garage® planning workshop. “We had caseworkers and program managers doing Design Thinking and it was really amazing,” says Staats. “They worked through different scenarios and the personas in those processes. Having everyone at the table and talking about clients from different perspectives was instrumental. IBM made that happen at a very critical time.”

Soon after the workshop was completed, Sonoma County moved quickly to develop an ACCESS Sonoma plan that would benefit the whole organization. IBM was tasked with designing an integrated technology solution to transform business processes, break down silos, share data between departments and coordinate support between agency providers and clients.

From 2018 to 2019, the homeless population count in Sonoma County declined by 2%, and declined another 7% from 2019 to 2020, resulting in a combined two-year decline of 9%. Sonoma County also achieved a 35% housing placement rate for unhoused clients, a rate over four times higher than the US national average. “We have opened up numerous permanent supportive or transitional housing sites,” says Gore. “And holding this together is the ACCESS Sonoma program that we’ve worked on with IBM.”