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Using the Public’s Data to Combat the Public Crisis of Homelessness

Tools for Smarter, Faster, Cheaper Homeless Interventions

The Issue

On December 20, 2018,Los Angeles County’s Chief Executive Office issued a letter demanding that the Economic Roundtable not release two new screening tools that identify individuals who will become persistently homeless and that it destroy the county data used to develop these tools. The first screening tool uses summary characteristics of previously homeless workers to predict which low-wage workers will become persistently homeless after losing their jobs.  The second tool uses summary characteristics of previously homeless young adults to predict which youth receiving public assistance will become persistently homeless in the first three years of adulthood, including youth emancipating from foster care.

Importance of the Screening Tools

Helping people avoid long-term homelessness through early intervention is far less difficult and costly than dealing with the problems that come with persistent homelessness. Homelessness takes a heavy toll on those who experience it, especially on their health. The costs of persistent homelessness are also high for taxpayers. As periods of homelessness persist, problems become more serious and the cost of treating them more expensive.

The problem is that it is not easy to identify those people who are at high risk of becoming persistently homeless so that resources can be targeted toward early interventions that work for them.

The powerful benefit of these new screening tools is that they will enable high-risk individuals to avoid the misery and harm of persistent homelessness by identifying them when they first become homeless, or even before they are homeless, so that they can immediately get the help they need to escape homelessness.

Procedural Objection

On December 20, 2018, the same day the predictive modeling report was sent to the Chief Executive Office and Department of Public Social Services for review, the county responded by emailed letter, asserting that the Economic Roundtable had made unauthorized use of county data. County staff assert that rather than being public records, this data is controlled by “departmental owners.” The letter does not discuss the data use authorizations granted by the county or the value of the screening tools for combatting homelessness.

Research began with approval of the County Board of Supervisors in 2005. Research to develop the current tools was carried out transparently and collaboratively with county staff, who received multiple briefings and opportunities to provide input during tool development.

The tools were built by applying sophisticated statistical modeling to records provided by the county that have been de-identified to safeguard individual privacy. Both tools predict which individuals are most likely to become persistently homeless, based on de-identified summary characteristics of previously homeless individuals. The tools will be freely available to all users.

The Economic Roundtable’s conclusion is that its use of the data is permitted and that information the public has paid to produce, that has been de-identified to protect the privacy of individuals, and that has been transformed through philanthropic funds and nonprofit effort into tools for combatting homelessness should be used for public benefit.

Background Information

The chronology of events and project archive below provide detailed information about development of the database for homeless research.

Chronology of Homeless Research

Project Archive: ERt Homeless Research and L.A. County Collaboration

  1. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors motion authorizing the Economic Roundtable to access county department administrative records.
    01 Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Motion-Economic Roundtable Research 18893 (PDF 53 KB)
  1. Minutes of the Board action: Instructions to county departments to provide data to the Economic Roundtable.
    02 Minutes of Board Action on Economic Roundtable Research 18893 (PDF 131 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable’s first agreement with the Los Angeles County Chief Administrative Office (CAO, renamed the CEO) and Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) 2006.  MOU signed by the LA County Chief Administrative Office agreeing to carry out the record linkage for the Economic Roundtable, and DPSS agreeing to provide data.
    03 LA Co MOU ERt – Family Centered Welfare Research Project (PDF 920 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable’s second agreement with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) to obtain data.
    04 ERt-DPSS contract Family-Centered Welfare Res Proj 2009 (PDF 846 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable report All Alone: Antecedents of Chronic Homelessness, released on August 25, 2015, underwritten by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
    05 All Alone (PDF 2.3 MB)
  1. Economic Roundtable Proposal for continued use of data from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS); DPSS research staff collaborated with the Economic Roundtable on this proposal.
    06 Dynamics of Poverty and Los Angeles County Record Linkage 5-11-2016 (153 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable 2017 letter documenting the return of CDs with data provided earlier by DPSS.
    07 Letter to DPSS returning data 4-21-2017 (DOCX 252 KB)
  1. Request for proposals (RFP) from LA County Chief Executive Office inviting participation from researchers to demonstrate predictive analytic capabilities.
    08 LA Co RFP – AnnouncementLetter_PredictiveAnalytics.0617 (PDF 324 KB)
  1. Data Use Protocol for Predictive Modeling: The Economic Roundtable signed this data use protocol as the first step in obtaining de-identified records for use in the predictive modeling RFP competition.
    09 Economic Roundtable Data Use Protocol (PDF 384 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable briefing to the LA County Chief Executive Office (CEO), providing its assessment of inadequacies in the records provided earlier by the county for carrying out the predictive modeling RFP.
    10 ERt Overview of Predictive Analytic Records (PPTX 2 MB)
  1. Economic Roundtable, in collaboration with SAS Institute, research proposal submitted to the LA County Chief Executive’s Office, after consultation and concurrence with that office about the approach outlined in the proposal.
    11 ERt-SAS Research Proposal to CEO-SIB (PDF 466 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable email transcripts with Los Angeles County staff 2014-2018.  ERt had extensive email correspondence with the county about our predictive modeling work, with ongoing interest and appreciation expressed by the county.
    12 Emails with LA County re data use 12-9-2014 to 12-20-2018 (PDF 374 KB)
  1. LA County CEO memo supporting the Economic Roundtable’s research project: This internal memo in the CEO’s office outlines reasons for supporting the Economic Roundtable’s work.
    13 Max Stevens memo supporting ERt agreement 8-15-2017 (DOCX 25 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable preliminary research findings briefing for the LA County Chief Executive’s Office, August 29, 2018.  Economic Roundtable briefing for the Chief Executive Office on our predictive modeling work and the future homeless typologies project.
    14 Phil Ansell briefing – Employment Model & Typologies 8-29-2018 (PPTX 3 MB)
  1. Economic Roundtable full research findings briefing for the LA County Chief Executive’s Office, October 28, 2018.  Economic Roundtable briefing for the Chief Executive Office on the complete body of work for our predictive models identifying unemployed workers and young adults who will become persistently homeless. 15 Phil Ansell briefing – Employment & Youth Models 10-28-2018 (PPTX 7 MB)
  1. Economic Roundtable predictive modeling report Early Intervention to Prevent Persistent Homelessness, sent to the LA County Chief Executive Office for their review and comments on December 20, 2018.
    16 Persistent Homelessness and Early Interventions (PDF 3 MB)
  1. LA County Chief Executive’s Office letter responding to the new Economic Roundtable report, Persistent Homelessness and Early Interventions.  On December 20, 2018, the CEO sent a letter to the Roundtable demanding that all data be destroyed and that the report not be published.
    17 CEO Letter re ERt Data Use 12-20-18 (PDF 120 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable response to Los Angeles County, sent January 25, 2019, explaining the importance of the new screening tools and the value of the Economic Roundtable data set for homeless research.
    18 Economic Roundtable Data Use
  1. Letter from County Counsel requesting certification that the Economic Roundtable did not possess five data sets provided by the county and the state.
    19 Los Angeles County Counsel letter
  1. Economic Roundtable procedures to de-identify longitudinal linked records in data set given to the county to share with other researchers.
    20 Economic Roundtable Procedures to De-Identify Longitudinal Linked Records
  1. Economic Roundtable certification that it does not possess data sets one to four identified by County Counsel.
    21 Data certification, items 1-4
  1. Economic Roundtable certification that it does not possess the fifth and final data set identified by County Counsel
    22 Data certification, item 5