In refining our health and social services for people who are experiencing homelessness, we have been talking a lot about better information sharing. Individuals who access services are forced to complete the same forms and answer the same questions from one agency to another, to another. This leads to what Jodi Pfarr calls ‘agency time’, the time people in poverty devote to just being a part of the system. It would seem far more efficient if all agencies were linked through common databasing, so that a housing worker at the shelter would, for example, know if an application was already submitted for an individual by a housing worker at Ontario Works.
However, with any system refinement, we have to think of the unintended consequences. In this case, I’m wondering about the unintended consequences of limiting access to services. So, for example, much of what service users access where they are getting the same thing in multiple places in considered redundancy. However, it might also equate to people getting what they need.
Let’s take food for an example. I just learned the other day that the London Unemployment Help Centre has a food cupboard. This finalizes it, every service in town has an emergency food cupboard. So let’s take an individual, we’ll call her Jane Doe, and look at how she acquires food. She might go to the Hospitality Centre for breakfast, access the food cupboard at InterCommunity Health for lunch, and go to the daily bread program for dinner. The next day she might do the shelter for breakfast, a church for lunch, and Mobilizing Hope van for dinner. If every agency charted her access of their food cupboard, her multiple uses might be seen as a redundancy.
So, the big risk of sharing information, is how is it used? People experiencing homelessness have developed ‘work arounds’ so that they can meet their immediate needs. Will information sharing close the door to these work arounds without also ensuring that needs are met?