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Exploring emergency sheltering services for people experiencing homelessness in San Diego County

We gathered people from across San Diego County

Street outreach, case managers, Homeless Outreach Teams, program directors, substance abuse clinicians, and policy leaders collaborated over two days to dream up solutions that address problems they face when finding emergency shelter for the County's most vulnerable residents. Participants designed paper prototypes that overlapped in similar functionality, showcasing a shared goal of finding shelter faster that focuses on reducing time and making transparent the availability of resources.



A Generate and Design Event

This event was facilitated by Caravan Studios and engaged people who work to end homelessness in San Diego County. None of them were experts in developing technology, but at the end of this two-day event, each participant designed a paper prototype of a technology that addresses a problem related to accessing emergency shelter.

Tech for outreach workers

The following mobile app ideas help outreach workers and case managers match the most vulnerable to shelter and help connect outreach staff to each other. Transparency, equity, and efficiency were core criteria for these teams.

How might we make the availability of emergency shelters more visible and accessible to all programs across San Diego County?

  • Creates a system to match individual needs with shelter resources


  • Captures valuable data to understand who is receiving emergency shelter; and informs program improvements and equitable practices


  • Reports on client demographics, number of beds, and number of participants served


Shelter Connect App

How might we allow outreach staff to receive faster responses to shelter requests when a person who is unhoused has expressed interest in emergency shelter during street outreach? 

  • Browse providers, their resources, and shelter availability in the region


  • Reserve a bed for two hours; after that time period it is released back into shelter inventory

  • Enter client information and special accommodations


  • If no beds, place a client on a shelter waiting list

One Stop Shop App

How might we allow outreach staff to identify relevant and available resources and services for people who are unhoused more efficiently while doing street outreach?

  • A seamless chat function that connects outreach staff, regardless of program, to each other


  • Search function in chat to find answers to repeated questions


  • Office Hours feature where an outreach staff is available in real time to answer questions

Real Time

Resources App

Tech for people who are unhoused

These teams considered how technology might make the acquisition of shelter more swift and more equitable for people seeking services on their own. The following kiosk and web site ideas provide the general public with key resources like shelter, where the nearest showers are located, and innovative needs like secure charging stations.

How might we make it easier for people who are unhoused to access resources and services on their own?

•  Solar-powered kiosk located inside or near community resource buildings.

•  Charging stations with small individual lockers for phone charging and security

•  A private and secure way to access messages from resource providers

•  Find relevant resources (shelter, healthcare, and transportation) and broadcasts of timely emergency alerts.

Resource Now Kiosk

Shelter Connect


How might we make the availability in emergency shelters more visible and accessible to all programs across San Diego County?

  • The general public can access a shelter matching feature

  • Secure login for shelter and case management staff

  • Staff can view and manage bed inventory and current requests for shelter

  • Future upgrades: services like food banks and other relevant resources; an accountability program to encourage programs to keep information up to date.

Tech that connects to existing services

This team considered how technology might make the acquisition of shelter more transparent while using existing systems in the County to benefit from the data, structures, and resources they provide.

How might we increase collaborations between agencies and programs that serve people who are unhoused to encourage more referrals?

  • Registered users can view and interact with information depending on level of access


  • Connects the case manager directly to the shelter once a match is made


  • Integrated with Community Information Exchange (CIE)


  • An accountability program ensures participating agencies keep their shelter and resource information updated.

Sheer Shelter Website

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