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Honoring Dan Shetler, 2020 Diane Randall Leadership Award Winner

October 23, 2020

We’ve all heard about smartphones, smart watches, smart TVs. But how can we build “smart” systems for analyzing homelessness? Can a data-driven housing system rapidly connect people to the housing resource that works for their specific situation?

Dan Shetler has worked for years to find answers to those questions. His dedication to identifying innovative, data-focused housing solutions has led to him being nominated for the 2020 Diane Randall Leadership Award. Dan Shetler bio picThis award recognizes an individual or group who demonstrates exemplary leadership in the public or private sector by promoting systems change, policies, and funding that create solutions to prevent and end homelessness.

Before entering his current role as Manager of Quality Assurance at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, Shetler worked as a data scientist for Columbus House, a homeless service organization based in New Haven. In his role, he became well-versed in the data needs of Connecticut’s homeless service system.

If you’re one of the many people who regularly uses, you’re familiar with Dan Shetler’s work. As part of the team that developed this invaluable data tool, he helped to make Connecticut’s homelessness data some of the most accessible and transparent in the country. But much of Shetler’s most important work took place behind the scenes.

“I think one area where we were successful is in making the Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) data more open,” Shetler says. HMIS is a federally mandated database that relies on direct data entry from local shelters; however, the data entry system can be “siloed,” meaning that it can be difficult to track a person’s involvement within the homeless system.

“A lot of the contribution I was able to make – along with Lauren Zimmerman at Supportive Housing Works and others –was being able to open up this black box and get those data out in a form that people could share and collaborate around.”

This collaborative, shareable data is invaluable to shelter providers and other housing workers. It reflects the ethos of Connecticut’s service system: Collaboration across departments, across regions, and across systems.

Through his work, Shetler seeks to help nonprofits become data-driven, increasing their efficiency and responsiveness. Adding to the work that has been done in Connecticut’s homelessness response system, he believes there is much more that can be done for the system to become truly data-driven.

“Machine learning and predictive analytics are common tools in the for-profit world, and they could be used to great effect in the homelessness system,” Shetler says.

“We know that around half of the people who enter an emergency shelter self-resolve within two weeks and we never see them again. This is good, and exactly what shelters are designed for. Unfortunately the rest spend much longer in the shelter, and some sadly end up bouncing around the shelter system for decades, costing tax papers tens of thousands of dollars and suffering immense trauma along the way. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use machine learning to harness the data of everyone who had previously gone through the system to predict who is likely to bounce around our system for decades and get them housed today? This would more efficiently allocate scarce resources and reduce incredible suffering.”

The next steps in this work are already taking place. Shetler mentions other data-driven individuals in Connecticut’s homelessness response system – like Lauren Zimmerman and Beau Anderson at the Connecticut Department of Housing. New initiatives are already underway to better structure the state’s data in order to make it easier to visualize flow through the system.

Dan Shetler has been an integral part of this important effort toward implementing a data-driven approach to Connecticut’s homeless service system. His efforts have been invaluable in the work to make homelessness rare, brief, and one-time. Please joining us in congratulating him for being awarded the 2020 Diane Randall Leadership Award!

The Reaching Home Awards are a yearly event dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments, determination, and passion of the people who work to end homelessness in Connecticut. Learn more about the Reaching Home Awards here, and join us in 2021 for the next Reaching Home Awards!