Gelman Library specialist uses maps to curate homelessness data

Media Credit: Kiana Robertson | Hatchet Photographer

Kean McDermott, a Gelman Library technology and geographic information systems specialist, is piloting a program to help map homelessness areas in the District.

A Gelman Library technology and geographic information systems specialist is looking to bring resources to D.C.’s homeless population with mapping technology that locates high-traffic areas.

Kean McDermott hosted an event this week to show students how local organizations can find neighborhoods in D.C. with large numbers of homeless residents. Community Partnership for the Prevention of the Homelessness is one of many organizations that uses data from the D.C. government to identify areas that most need city resources.

“It’s important to map the location of homeless individuals so that service workers have a better idea where to concentrate their efforts and, on another level, how funds should be distributed across Washington, D.C. so that those in positions of financial authority can make better decisions based on data,” he said.

McDermott had students, mostly geography majors, re-create maps of areas of D.C. with high levels of homelessness. This data will be used in January to determine which areas of the city will receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

McDermott said the event was a hands-on experience that gave students a better understanding of how mapping works, and a chance to try the new mapping software recently installed on all Gelman computers.

“This was a great way to pair the homelessness advocacy organizations with our tools and bright students,” he said.

Tom Fredericksen, chief of policy and programs at the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, also spoke at the event, highlighting the importance of targeting certain areas of D.C.

“We can directly outreach resources to those parts in the city to make connections with people that might not be known to outreach workers to get them into housing,” Fredericksen said.

He added that many homeless residents usually don’t go to shelters, even in the cold weather.

“People will not go inside even when it’s 16 degrees outside, and it’s just determining how we can get the resources to those people,” he said.

Last year, homeless shelters were filled to capacity during one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent years, and shelters – which are required by D.C. law to house homeless residents in the event of a hypothermia warning – scrambled to find space for those in need.

The number of homeless families seeking services is expected to increase 16 percent this winter, the Washington Post reported.

Tom Murphy, director of communication at Miriam’s Kitchen, said the shelter uses a system called coordinated entry to identify homeless residents and provide the best resources to each individual.

“For people who are most at risk, we need to know where they are and mapping is the key to finding them,” he said.

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