In the ever-evolving landscape of humanitarian aid and disaster response, the efficient management of providing access to safe and dignified shelter to those who need it is crucial to ensuring timely assistance to those in need. One groundbreaking initiative that stands out in this regard is the rental and hosting assistance program implemented by the Slovak Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), in response to the conflict in Ukraine and the subsequent influx of displaced populations into Slovakia. Rental and hosting programs require an extensive Information Management process. 510, the data and digital initiative of the Netherlands Red Cross, was requested to support the National Society in developing an Information Management (Shelter IM) platform, providing a streamlined and effective solution for managing the information related to the program.

‘Having access to a high-quality data management system can contribute a huge amount to the smooth delivery, efficiency and overall success of a shelter program like this.’
– Leeanne Marshall (Regional Shelter and Settlements Coordinator IFRC)

Objective of Rental Assistance & Hosting Assistance  Programs
Rental and hosting assistance programs play a vital role in supporting individuals in need of shelter and protection by utilizing the existing housing market, whether through private apartments and houses or facilitating access to host family accommodations. These programs target the most vulnerable households based on specific eligibility criteria, allowing them to enroll for support. In this shelter program, the Slovak Red Cross, for a defined period, covers costs related to rent and utilities either through direct cash and voucher assistance (CVA) to individuals, or as payments to property owners or service providers. There is a strong link with livelihood programs, supporting households to develop sustainable strategies for securing their own income and maintaining their living conditions after the rental support concludes.

“The Humanitarian Service Point is not just a place where people come to ask something. It really creates relationships within the Ukrainian community. Many displaced people from Ukraine are alone and really appreciate the familiar atmosphere that they feel in the place.”
– Staff member (Slovak Red Cross)

The Shelter IM Platform
Understanding the unique needs of the Slovak Red Cross was crucial for designing the Shelter IM platform. The National Society sought an integrated platform that could efficiently collect and manage information, operate both online and offline, automate messaging to households, improve the efficiency of the payment process, eliminate reliance on Excel, and automate steps in the enrollment process. The Shelter IM Platform seamlessly incorporates these needs, providing a comprehensive and user-friendly solution tailored to the intricate requirements of humanitarian aid operations in the field of rental and hosting assistance. The Slovak Red Cross has supported 698 families in this program so far. People affected were able to come to the Humanitarian Service Point where they would be registered in the system.

Shelter IM Platform

Design, Development & Implementation Process
The journey began with a visit to Bratislava in August 2022, where the components of the Rental Assistance and Host Family Program were comprehensively understood. This included identifying user needs and designing the Information Management flow. The platform was developed using EspoCRM, an open-source customer relationship management tool. A second field visit in September involved testing the platform with relevant users, implementing feedback, defining roles and responsibilities of users, and conducting training sessions for staff at Humanitarian Service Points. The platform was subsequently deployed in Poland, with ongoing support provided to National Societies for maintenance and technical assistance.

Humanitarian Service Point in the Slovakia Poprad branch. © IFRC

Shelter IM Architecture:
The Shelter IM architecture serves as a comprehensive framework designed to optimize the collection, analysis, and dissemination of critical information within shelter and humanitarian contexts.

Shelter IM Architecture

Platform integration
The Shelter IM platform integrates with the RedRose system used for cash and voucher assistance in the Ukraine response, enhancing the overall efficiency of the Red Cross’s operations in automatically transferring cash to program participants. Moreover, it provides the flexibility to seamlessly integrate with alternative payment platforms like the 121 Platform, thereby introducing additional avenues for cash transfers. Thus ensuring a synergistic collaboration between various systems for a more holistic and streamlined approach to humanitarian assistance.

Next Steps & Reflection
The Shelter Information Management (Shelter IM) initiative encompasses a multifaceted strategy for continuous improvement and global impact. This involves gathering feedback from the implementation in Slovakia and Poland to refine the platform. It also includes contributing to the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) in collaboration with IFRC and the Global Shelter Cluster. Additionally, the initiative focuses on creating a scaling plan for rapid deployment in diverse contexts by developing a standardized EspoCRM template, providing capacity-building support to IFRC and National Societies, and actively seeking new opportunities for deploying the Shelter IM system in various humanitarian contexts. Through these comprehensive measures, Shelter IM aims to evolve as a dynamic and impactful solution in the field of humanitarian aid. In conclusion, the collaboration between IFRC, the Slovak Red Cross, and 510 on the Shelter IM platform exemplifies the innovative use of digital tools to enhance the efficiency and impact of humanitarian aid. By leveraging technology to address the unique needs of the Slovak Red Cross, this platform has the potential to greatly improve the way rental assistance programs and host family support are managed, not only in Slovakia and Poland but also as a scalable solution for diverse contexts worldwide.

We want to hear from you!

Are you interested in collaborating with us on similar solutions in the field of Shelter IM or Cash and Voucher Assistance, tailored to your context? Please reach out to:  

Project coordinator, Shelter IM: Inez Gortzak 
Product manager, 121 Platform: Tijs Ziere