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

Tools for Smarter, Faster, Cheaper Homeless Interventions


Since 1991, the Economic Roundtable has carried out research requested by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors using County data and funding from private foundations. This has included the impacts of defense cutbacks after the cold war ended, outcomes from welfare-to-work programs and homelessness. Most recently, the Chief Executive Office (CEO) requested the Economic Roundtable to develop predictive analytic models to help combat homelessness. The Roundtable developed a research plan together with CEO staff, describing the data that would be used, the predictive tools that would be developed, and the report that would be produced. This was followed by a series of meetings to brief CEO staff on research findings.

On December 20, 2018, the Roundtable sent the draft report to CEO staff for review and comment. Five hours later, CEO staff replied with a letter demanding that the Economic Roundtable not release the report and that it destroy the data used to develop the two new homeless screening tools for identifying individuals who will become persistently homeless. The only issue raised in the CEO’s letter was that the County owned the data and had the right to control what was done with it. The letter did not address the value of the screening tools for combatting homelessness.

The first screening tool identifies low-wage workers who will become persistently homeless after losing their jobs. The second tool identifies youth entering adulthood and receiving public assistance who will become persistently homeless within three years, including youth emancipating from foster care.

The county’s reversal was unexpected and remains unexplained. The indirectly-received explanation is that the Roundtable’s report does not offer an upbeat message about homelessness. Following an inconclusive meeting on March 5, 2019 of Economic Roundtable staff, board members and attorneys with CEO and County Counsel staff, the Roundtable released the report.

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.

Importance of the Data for Combatting Homelessness

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 have been placed in the public domain and are 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 5-20-2019 (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 December 20, 2018 (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   January 25, 2019 (129 KB)
  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  February 26, 2019 (226 KB)
  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  March 5, 2019 (527 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable certification that it does not possess data sets one to four identified by County Counsel.
    21 Data certification, items 1-4  March 6, 2019 (24 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable certification that it does not possess the fifth and final data set identified by County Counsel
    22 Data certification, item 5  March 12, 2019 (22 KB)
  1. Economic Roundtable request to Los Angeles County for approval to continue to use the database it built.
    23 Data request to Los Angeles County  April 15, 2019 (387 KB)
  1. Los Angeles County Letter Returning Flash Drives to Economic Roundtable
    24 Letter from Los Angeles County Chief Information Office  April 24, 2019 (34 KB)
  2. Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller’s request for information regarding its review of the Chief Administrative Office’s procurement procedures about whether the Chief Executive Office’s procurement procedures for predictive analytic screening tools for homelessness were fair and impartial.
    25 Email correspondence between the Los Angeles County Auditor Controller and the Economic Roundtable. March 9, 2021 to April 21, 2021 (216 KB)