GIS and Geo-spatial Science Discussion Paper.

GIS and Geo-spatial Science Discussion Paper.

GIS and geospatial science have become a technology-driven field ever since the advent of digitizing paper maps into computer systems for analysis. From data collection technologies to analysis software and visualization hardware, there is an ever-growing number of tools at the disposal of geospatial professionals.

In the area of data collection, traditional tools such as Total Stations now co-exist alongside GPS-enabled mobile devices, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and micro-satellites.GIS and Geo-spatial Science Discussion Paper. For analysis, any number of options exist, from proprietary software tools such as Esri ArcGIS and ArcGIS Online, to a growing number of free and open source solutions such as QGIS and GRASS GIS. Combining visualization and analysis, some of the newest tools available include Immersive Virtual Environments (IVE) and Tangible User Interfaces. In fact, NC State’s Center for Geospatial Analytics has pioneered the development of Tangible Landscape using open source GIS, and NC State serves as the North American hub for GeoForAll as part of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo), with a focus on incorporating open source solutions into the educational experience.

How does GIS help solve real-world problems?

Other real-world examples of the use of GIS tools include understanding and mapping the spread of diseases. Epidemiologists often need to make predictions about the behavior of disease and use GIS technology to help visualize trends and inform decision makers about prevention strategies, as well as help first responders during an outbreak.


GIS tools are even used in architecture, where they can be utilized to identify line of sight during a building project, to make predictions about crowds and pedestrian traffic or to optimize space utilization when designing a project. By using GIS, architects can design buildings that are more efficient in structure and fit more effectively within existing landscapes.

These are just a few of the numerous examples where GIS and geospatial science can play a key role in helping scientists, decision-makers, and the public develop collaborative solutions to real-world problems, and NC State and the Center for Geospatial Analytics are at the forefront of GIS innovation and solution-driven research. Our educational programs have been designed to keep new and current professionals prepared for the demands of such a dynamic field. GIS and Geo-spatial Science Discussion Paper.


Problem #1: Lack of Access to Housing and Services

For many communities, homeless services are already established. Shelters are in place, affordable housing is increasing, and service providers are ready to accommodate. However, there are still structural barriers, (i.e. obstacles that prevent an eligible person from getting available benefits), such as where program locations and the atmosphere or environments of these offices and shelters.

GIS technology can identify the correlation between the locales where the homeless are concentrated and where shelters, affordable housing, and services are located. By combining a layer of zip code data with a layer of addresses for service providers and housing, you could generate a map that easily visualizes this data.

For example, the map below combines two sets of data—locations of homeless populations, and locations of public and affordable housing—to study whether resources are locate

As Geospatial Solutions notes, this data visualization shows larger concentrations of the homeless population located near downtown and the South of Market area where there are only a few scattered public housing sites. However, there is much more public housing grouped together in Chinatown. This information is important, and should be used to inform future decisions about where to locate resources. GIS and Geo-spatial Science Discussion Paper.

Another example comes from one of the communities using Clarity Human Services HMIS software. The Southern Nevada CoC used this HMIS software to create a ‘jurisdiction’ custom field within the HMIS so that whenever a homeless client enters a community program, this jurisdiction data will be captured. This custom data shows whether a client originated from any of Southern Nevada’s main jurisdictions or known homeless encampments, or if they’re coming from areas of town that aren’t currently a primary focus of outreach efforts.

The goal of Southern Nevada will be to produce a map outlining this data to inform decisions for more targeted outreach and funding needs. For example, this map could potentially secure more funding for homeless outreach if it indicates there is a higher service demand in areas of the city that Southern Nevada doesn’t currently have the capacity to reach due to funding restrictions.

GIS can answer other questions, such as: How accessible is public transportation in these areas? and Does shelter quality affect the rate of unsheltered homelessness in an area?

Understanding the issues that affect accessibility is key to such decisions as shelter policies and program design.


Problem #2: Understanding Various Social and Environmental Factors Affective Homelessness

Health problems, substance abuse, lack of quality public education, and criminalization measures are just a few of the numerous issues that cause and/or perpetuate homelessness.

Social and environmental factors vary for each community, making it important to study the specific neighborhoods in which homeless populations live. A geographic information system can help communities do just this.

Examples include What neighborhoods host the most Section 8 Vouchers?

Communities can map where clients with vouchers are being housed in real-time. This requires a data visualization tool that is integrated directly with an HMIS to ensure homeless clients are not collectively housed in the same area, preventing the artificial creation of isolated, low-income neighborhoods.

Another great example comes from New Republic article, exploring the correlation between where Section 8 vouchers are used and where other factors are prominent, such as race, income, education, unemployment, and teen pregnancy.

HUD affirms that when voucher holders are placed in already-existing bad neighborhoods with minimal job opportunities, low high school graduation rates, and high crime rates, the chances of escaping homelessness are greatly reduced.

GIS can answer other related questions such as Which criminalization measures are in place within certain areas? and Do certain areas have prevalent health hazards that perpetuate or exacerbate homelessness conditions?

Having a clear visualization of this data can help service providers decide where to focus community interventions such as health screenings, vaccines, and rapid re-housing programs. GIS and Geo-spatial Science Discussion Paper.


Problem #3: Finding and Effectively Helping Homeless and At-Risk Youth

We know that homeless youths are a difficult population to locate and help. Many youths are unaware they qualify as homeless. And if they are aware, they often refuse the label and the services associated due to embarrassment around peers.

In addition, depression, anxiety, and associated histories of abuse and betrayal can intensify their distrust of adults, shelters, and support services. As a result, this marginalized population is largely under-counted, and therefore under-served.

There are several ways to approach the challenges in finding and helping this population. Below are a few examples of questions to consider, and how to use GIS to understand them.

Where are the street “hangouts” that homeless youth frequent?

Communities can map the known locations of adolescent homeless clients and use those as reference points to find others. They could study the similarities between these locations (e.g. coffee shops, access to Wifi, drug hot-spots, volume of sex trafficking tips) to predict other locations where homeless teens may hang out.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness also suggests partnering with organizations who work specifically with youth at-risk of or experiencing homelessness. Formerly or currently homeless youth volunteers will have special insight into where other homeless youth congregate. Producing a map that visualizes this data helps communities determine where to send outreach teams. GIS and Geo-spatial Science Discussion Paper.

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