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The Arizona State University Smart City Cloud Innovation Center Powered by AWS (ASU CIC) collaborated with the organizations that comprise the Human Services Campus (HSC) and other service providers to apply the ASU CIC’s Working Backwards Innovation process to help end homelessness. In 1984 Newsweek magazine called Phoenix "the city without a heart" for its treatment of the local homeless. Since then, the Phoenix community has worked tirelessly towards ending homelessness in the Valley.
The HSC is a collaboration of faith-based, non-profit, government, private, and community organizations that came together in 2005 to form what is now considered a national model. Each year the HSC serves some 7,000 people experiencing homelessness with 470 shelter beds, 1,000 meals a day, and a host of other services.
“Homelessness is a regional challenge requiring diverse community engagement and involvement,” Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. The Human Services Campus brings together 20 social service programs to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness by providing access to food, shelter, medical care, employment, and many other services. Because Campus clients touch so many programs, it is a challenge to understand what each organization is doing and how they are working with individual clients. There simply isn’t a tool that allows for the capturing and sharing of data to foster better collaboration and insights.
Most of the organizations working to end homelessness share an application called the Homeless Management Information System or HMIS. HMIS is a well-developed and used tool that primarily focuses on reporting using standardized criteria. HMIS does not, however, include all relevant agency information on appointments and program availability that might be useful to other organizations.
The HSC wanted to explore how to expand data capacity by leveraging and integrating with HMIS.
Amy Schwabenlender, Executive Director of the Human Services Campus, and Bridget Healy, Director of Strategic Initiatives at ASU’s Watts College, convened 25 staffers from HSC programs, the City of Phoenix, the State Department of Economic Security, ASU and AWS who participated in an ASU CIC Innovation Workshop on October 18. At the workshop attendees used the AWS Working Backwards process to explore data challenges associated with serving the Campus clientele and identified a solution with four elements: a central portal, database, tools for collaboration, and a digital identification to streamline service delivery.
The group named the application MAP - Multi-Agency Portal and envisions when completed the application will improve the ability to capture and share real-time information on resource use and availability; items like shelter beds, clothing, and jobs. Additionally, the group believes that a digital ID will minimize lost, stolen, and damaged official documents; lessen the need to replace documents, and streamline the delivery of services by making it easier to submit required documentation to service providers. The group also envisions MAP as a regional or even national solution to enhance client care and outcomes.
As part of the ASU CIC process, the team continued their engagement with a Solutions Workshop that dove into the specific technical requirements needed to build a prototype. During the workshop, the CIC assessed the data, AWS services required, and a path forward to build out a prototype.
The Amazon Working Backwards process produces three artifacts - a Press Release, a list of Frequently Asked Questions, and a Visual depiction of the user experience. You can find the Reducing Homelessness artifacts here:
The ASU Cloud Innovation Center completed the prototype development in 2020. The solution is available for other communities as open source information and can be accessed via https://github.com/ASUCICREPO/GARCIA-FOUNDATION. The complete system build out will be accomplished with AWS and AWS partners.
We also anticipate the MAP will support and augment the work of the Watts College Homelessness Action Nexus on the HSC campus. While focusing on campus enhancements for the people they serve, the Nexus will also look to engage a regional initiative to end homelessness. The Nexus, among other things, will work to connect efforts across siloed systems and agencies, while providing and sourcing the additional capacity needed to drive forward solutions in partnership. Connecting the dots, advancing solutions and improvements in service delivery, information sharing, data harmonizing, coordination and co-creating solutions are all part of the Nexus role. Ultimately, the focus is on fewer people becoming homeless and more people successfully exiting homelessness.
The ASU Smart Cities Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) is a strategic relationship with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and is supported by AWS on ASU’s Innovation campus - SkySong. The mission of the CIC is to drive Innovation Challenges that materially benefit the greater Phoenix metro area and beyond. The CIC will do this by solving pressing community and regional challenges, using shareable and repeatable technology solutions from ideation through prototype, as a service for the greater human good.
The CIC also provides real-world problem-solving experiences to students by immersing them in the application of proven innovation methods in combination with the latest technologies to solve important challenges in the public sector.
The challenges being addressed cover a wide variety of topics including homelessness, water conservation, vandalism, pedestrian safety, digital service delivery and many others. The CIC leverages the deep subject matter expertise of government, education and non-profit organizations to clearly understand the customers affected by public sector challenges and develops solutions that meet the customer needs.
For more information on the ASU CIC, to read about projects or to submit a challenge, please visit
About ASU Watts College:
The Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions is Arizona State University’s laboratory for the innovative production of public goods. Watts is committed to fearlessly taking on the most daunting challenges facing society and creating an impact with a multidisciplinary approach to solving problems. Whether the focus is on public safety, social welfare, public administration or community development, Watts brings creativity, systems-level thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit to the mission of building, sustaining and promoting dynamic, prosperous communities.
About The Human Services Campus:
Established in 2005, the Human Services Campus (HSC) is a collaborative agency on the Human Services Campus and provides resources to individuals experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County. A non-profit, private, government and community collaboration that provides wrap-around services for adults experiencing homelessness, the Campus has become a national model. Referred to as the “hub” of the Campus; the HSC serves as a gateway for individuals to access an extensive array of human services needed to begin the transformation from crisis to stability and self-sufficiency.