Anthea Stratigos – March 22, 2016
SuperBowl 50 put a spotlight on the host city San Francisco and the intractable homeless crisis that permeates throughout our 7 x 7 borders. The homeless budget is rising to $241 million per year, up $84 million from five years ago when the mayor took office. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, our local paper, about 22,000 people have moved off the streets since 2004, but the homeless total remains about 6,600 – “sicker, older, and more spread out” than last year’s headcount they say. The problem by all accounts has gotten worse, not better and the situation is reaching an extreme.
It’s superbly ironic, and sad, to read in another game day article that the city struggles to “track exactly how all that money is being spent and whether it’s producing results”. Eight city departments oversee at least 400 contracts to 76 private organizations most of them non-profits…..no single system tracks people as they bounce among that galaxy of agencies, says the paper. Apparently 14 years ago the city controller called for an integrated system. There’s still no network or a plan for one, and further the article cites Dr. Josh Bamberger, a UCSF professor who has crafted policy locally and nationally who says “few things are more crucial to tackling homelessness than having a system that tracks people through every aspect of service,” and points to other cities that have benefitted from such systems.
In my year-end Insight, I point to a key trend in the information industry – that information can be used for social good and cite an agency who is tracking dogs in and out of shelters. Why, I ask, are we willing to track dogs, but in a city busting at the seams with tech digerati, we refuse to build a single system to track the homeless and help them get back on their feet or get the care they need?
I ask where is the head of Twitter, Google, Salesforce.com, Apple, LinkedIn, Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber who are busting at the seams with coding talent, and who are no doubt donating money, but not donating brain power to fix this single information problem? If each of them put one developer on the case for six months, and maybe a business analyst or two, we’d have that system built in a flash. I’d love nothing more than for MarkLogic, an amazing solution that can integrate data and provide a smart data aggregation layer across disparate systems to fly on in like Superman, and take on a pro bono project to fix this problem once and for all. Outsell will do the needs analysis – will someone join us at the table to put the technology chops behind this data problem and solve it once and for all?
We cannot be the City by the Bay, at our best, if we don’t have the will to apply our skill. We cannot tout our technology prowess around the world if we can’t build a single system to track and serve 6,600 people in need. We cannot walk around feather-fluffing about how much we are changing the world if we are unwilling to change our own street corners. We cannot call ourselves a civilized society and blather on about how great technology is if we are going to our stand-up desks and latte machines walking over people drunk on the sidewalks or sleeping under overpasses. It’s time to stop being the laughing stock of the nation and world while tourists and visitors come our way and wonder how could this possibly be in our ‘cool gray city of love.’