"With Alpha Anywhere I've been able to build tablet and smartphone apps that improve the productivity of our caseworkers and deliver better services to the homeless. Alpha Anywhere is ideal because I'm able to hand off the management and maintenance of these apps to people without programming backgrounds."
- Bill Hess, Director of Information Services, Committee On The Shelterless
The Committee On The Shelterless in Petaluma, California, is a non-profit agency that provides a wide range of services that prevent and break the cycle of homelessness for children, families, and adults. It provides 350 beds of shelter for families and single adults. Annually, it serves 2,200 adults and children, and provides 124,000 hot meals to seniors, veterans, families, and children.
The Committee On The Shelterless (COTS) provides its services at two homeless shelters, 21 houses, and a 34-unit apartment complex. Its primary goals are to prevent the cycle of homelessness and to provide shelter for those without homes.
Sophisticated app capabilities built quickly
Rich mobile device capabilities including location and image capture
Fast, accurate data capture in the field
Traditionally, services have been provided from homeless service centers where clients would go for shelter, receive help and meet with caseworkers. A more effective way of breaking the cycle of homelessness is the Housing First model. Housing First is an approach that offers permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and then provides supportive services wherever the clients may be to help them keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness. For COTS, this means that caseworkers travel to the houses and apartments to meet with clients, and outreach workers travel around the city to where the homeless congregate.
Applications for caseworkers were originally designed for desktop computers, not mobile devices. COTS was looking to develop a suite of tablet-based applications that would help its caseworkers deliver mobile services to their clients.
"The apps we envision would help us be more effective in the services we deliver," says COTS' Director of Information Services Bill Hess. "Beyond that, they have to meet Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines for data collection, management and reporting, and be able to communicate with a central Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)."
"The apps have to meet Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines for data collection, management and reporting, and be able to communicate with a central Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)."
Hess looked at development solutions, and chose Alpha Anywhere for multiple reasons. "The ease of developing applications was one of the big draws for us," Hess says. "The ability to create forms for tablets, smartphones, and Web browsers is extremely important, because that's where things are heading. We also appreciated the support that Alpha supplies."
Another key reason for choosing Alpha Software is that Hess wanted to create apps that could easily be maintained and updated by someone who does not have the same level of technical skills that he has.
"I have a background in software development, but these apps will be important for a long time. I want to create apps that someone without my expertise can still maintain. Alpha Anywhere is perfect for that," he explains.
With Alpha Anywhere, Hess is building a suite of apps designed to run on tablets that caseworkers can bring with them into the field. Caseworkers need to carefully document every part of their day and services they provide, and the apps make doing that exceptionally easy, including automatic data collection. The apps also integrate with HMIS and meet HUD standards.
"Caseworkers can spend more time with clients, and less time doing paperwork and manual tasks."
Hess is building a core app designed for caseworkers to do their work using a tablet away from the office. In the morning, caseworkers will sign into the app to see the appointments and work they have for the entire day. Also loaded in the app will be information about all of the clients they will be visiting and other data. All this saves a tremendous amount of paperwork and manual labor.
Caseworkers are required to document all travel, appointments, and meetings, including travel time and mileage between destinations. The app makes that far easier. It automatically records travel time and distances using the tablet's clock and geolocation capabilities. To record time spent in meetings or with clients, caseworkers need only tap buttons when the meetings start and end.
At the end of the day, the caseworker syncs data from mobile data collection solution with the office network. In turn, the network sends the data to the accounting system, the HMIS, and an activity sheet tracking the caseworker's work. "This offers many benefits," Hess says. "With it, caseworkers can spend more time with clients, and less time doing paperwork and manual tasks."
Using Alpha Anywhere, Hess is also writing a smartphone app that allows people in the community to provide COTS with information about individuals and areas in the town that need attention, such as homeless encampments, graffiti, abandoned shopping carts, and more. In addition to helping COTS provide better services, it also creates a bond between people in the community and COTS, which will lead to increased community involvement in solving the problem of homelessness.
"With the apps we're building with Alpha Anywhere, we're not just improving productivity and forging links with the community - we're offering better services to the homeless, which is the whole reason for our being," he says.