In April 2023, the Wasco County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council scheduled a Town Hall Meeting to discuss homelessness. The Town Hall served as the kickoff event for a cross-agency initiative, led by the Wasco County Sheriff, to address this pressing issue. The initiative included eight agencies, including the County and local governments, community organizations, the Regional Behavioral Health Agency, the County’s District Attorney, the local Correctional Facility, and others.
In planning meetings preceding the Town Hall, it became clear that each partner agency had its own distinct understanding of what the community was thinking and saying about homelessness, including misinformation and rumors. It was critical to create a single source of truth regarding the public sentiment and perceptions around the homelessness issue.
To do this, the group turned to Wasco County’s PIO, Stephanie Krell, asking her to facilitate the event and ensure that all participants were ready with a common shared understanding from which to move forward.
The Zencity Solution
As a first step, Wasco County created a Project Hub on Zencity Engage, where participants could go to find the most accurate and up-to-date information about homelessness, as well as the progress of the initiative itself. Given the large number of stakeholders, this single source of information was crucial.
At the suggestion of Zencity, Krell also decided to conduct a survey on homelessness prior to the event. The survey was designed with the goal of understanding the community’s priorities from the outset and engaging more residents than would be able to attend the in-person Town Hall Meeting.
Stephanie Krell: “Zencity was super helpful, sending me templates based on homelessness surveys they have done with other partners or directing me to their question bank. Instead of not knowing where to start, Zencity provided me with a great jumping-off point in building the survey.”
In a previous attempt to gather questions ahead of the meeting (via an Email sent to residents), only five responses were submitted. By contrast, within 24 hours of the survey being launched, more than 200 people had responded, with an eventual complete rate of 81% and 650 responses. Krell says: “I was shocked at how much engagement we received from the survey. It was wild, and it was very helpful to hear what people’s concerns are and understand in advance of the meeting what are the hot topics that people wanted to know more about.”
Thanks to the survey, the partner agencies arrived at the Town Hall with a stronger understanding of public sentiment and opinions on the homelessness issue. Rather than hear from the public for the first time during the event itself, the partner representatives came prepared, ready to speak about what was really top of mind for residents and address their concerns head-on.
In addition, the survey added hundreds of voices to the conversation, representing those who were not able to attend in-person or virtually: “In the Town Hall, almost everyone started by thanking us for offering the survey. They were very appreciative that we had organized this. They expressed this in the survey itself as well. It was very well received by our community” says Krell.
With a live project page, Krell is hopeful that “with additional town halls, this page will grow. As we move forward with this initiative, this hub will be really helpful for residents, and the stakeholders taking part in the initiative, to look back on what we’ve done, where we are today, and what we’re planning. I also have no doubt we will run future surveys on the issue, and I look forward to doing that with Zencity.”
“I was just overwhelmed with the amount of participation. Having Zencity data really sets us up for success in terms of what to expect in the meeting. If another agency asks me how I prepared for this Town Hall and got a pulse on what the community wants and expects of us, I would recommend the use of the Zencity platform.”
Public Information Officer, Wasco County, OR