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System Has Trouble Tracking Homeless 

Since 2004, homeless people can no longer show up at a shelter and ask for a bed. Instead, they're directed to Central Intake, which is operated by Commonwealth Catholic Charities, for an extensive initial interview. Staff ask clients about such things as substance abuse, their mental health history and how they became homeless.

The information is entered into the computer system and used to match homeless clients with a case manager and a place to stay. Sometimes they're enrolled in programs for things like job training or substance-abuse rehabilitation, with the goal of helping them stabilize their lives and find housing.

Recently, a team has begun to identify those people who have been in the system for years without making any progress, says Carla Turnage, program manager for Central Intake. The computer system helps target these "frequent fliers" for special attention.

The system is an invaluable tool for tracking individuals, say some. "For what I use it for, it serves me brilliantly," says Gail Bird Necklace, who enters clients in the system. But it doesn't do well with other tasks, like generating statistical reports.

"Since the get-go there have been problems with the report side of things," says Susan Sekerke, director of marketing and development for Freedom House.

Peter Prizzio, executive director of the Daily Planet, says he knows of instances where clients have been entered into the system "and they've disappeared." Or, he says, data will change for no reason.

But Prizzio doesn't think the software is the problem, he says, and he suspects users just need more training. ServicePoint manufacturer Bowman Systems met recently with the Richmond agencies to discuss the problems and will implement improvements by the fall.

"I do think it's going to get worked out," Prizzio says.

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