Software helps Lancaster, Pa., aid its homeless

Lancaster County, Pa., was where the 1985 film 'Witness' was shot. But the pastoral farms and fields depicted in the movie harbor a hidden population: the homeless.

County officials estimate that on an average night, more than 430 men, women and children stay in some sort of county shelter, said Aimee Tyson, a community development specialist for the county. Despite the 18th century-style agrarian economy portrayed in 'Witness,' the county has 'hidden pockets of poverty and homelessness,' Tyson said.

To better track the services homeless people receive, county officials bought ServicePoint software from Bowman Internet Systems LLC of Shreveport, La. Lancaster social workers use the system to access data stored in a Microsoft SQL Server database via the Web. The data resides on a Dell PowerEdge server.

Single entry point

ServicePoint is written in PHP, a scripting language that can be embedded in HTML, said Kimberly Stafford, account manager for Bowman Internet Systems. The software runs on the county's management information system to give social workers a single point of entry to Lancaster's social services system, Tyson said. For example, the system will let users find data on both medical and Food Stamp benefits a homeless resident has received.

The data will be encrypted to protect client confidentiality. 'It will also give us a more accurate count of the homeless population,' she said. The system also complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, she said.

The ServicePoint package cost the county $24,000, which includes support, training and maintenance, Tyson said. The complete homeless-management information system will cost about $157,000.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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