As a new member of the Alliance team, and someone who is relatively new to the housing first movement, I wanted to get a better understanding of what advances advocates believe have had the greatest impact in our fight to end homelessness. Last month, I sent out a short survey to the 2012 Annual conference presenters and scholarship recipients, more than 200 individuals in total. The survey was designed to garner qualitative responses regarding the improvements and changes we are seeing in housing and homelessness, and to help us learn what these leaders in the field saw as being essential to our progress.
Like many of you, I entered this field somewhat by accident. I started in an emergency shelter in the late 1990s where I worked with domestic violence survivors and their families. Often a client would spend months in an emergency shelter before moving on to transitional housing, where she would stay for nearly a year, and only then, after months of appointments, applications and interviews, would she receive a voucher for housing assistance. Needless to say, Housing First was not the approach we used back then.
I am only beginning to review the 44 unduplicated responses and identify themes, but one thing is clear, the use of data in decision-making is one of the most significant advances in the field.
So, if you have ever felt overwhelmed by reporting requirements, frustrated by HMIS or a database, or disheartened by the numbers, take comfort in knowing that the data being generated is in helping shape solutions and drive advocacy efforts, and that the people like you, who are capturing and analyzing the data, are doing crucial work.
I will continue to review the responses and share the themes as they are uncovered. Until then, here are a few raw, unedited responses from the survey.
Survey Question: What are the most significant improvements you have seen in this field?
“The shift from managing homelessness to overcoming and ending homelessness. Huge increase in data, data analysis and use of data to help determine successful programming.” – 16 years in the field.
“Focusing on strategies that work — following the lead of research.” – 22 years in the field.
“The most significant improvement has been the use of data to establish evidenced-based practices and provide measurable client-based outcomes to assist in determining whether our clients are better off because of the services we are paying for.” – 14 years in the field.
“Reliance on data, willingness to question sacred cows, focus on outcomes, solutions-orientation.” – 14 years in the field.
“The advent of research for this field, documentation of best practices, documented evidence based practices, HPRP, and cost analysis of specific housing and service interventions. The above noted items helped start shift, but some other significant improvements are happening but less publicized or accessible, such as tracking cost per permanent housing outcome, tracking one time homeless vs multiple users, dissecting the use patterns of the homeless population, and models for transition of program models.” – 22 years in the field.
“A cost benefit analyses, HMIS, clearer best practices.” – 16 years in the field.
“Increased openness to new models, and acceptance that we need to focus on performance outcomes in order to keep up support for homelessness programs.” – 10 years in the field.
“Data and leadership.” – 17 years in the field.
“An increased focus on data and evidence based solutions.” – 2 years in the field.
To all of our readers, I would like to now pose the question to you. What are your thoughts about data as an improvement in the field? How has data in housing changed our work? We would love to hear your thoughts and encourage our readers to submit comments through this blog post.