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Homelessness , Supportive Housing

Why Data Matters: A Recipe to Zero

20 January 2015

Elizabeth Grim is a policy analyst at the Partnership for Strong Communities

Each January the start of a new year brings conversations of resolutions: eat healthier, exercise regularly, sleep more, lose weight, manage time. But what are our community resolutions? Our state’s? This January, let’s focus instead on the recipe to zero - the pathway to end homelessness in Connecticut.

Breakfast is often touted as the most important meal of the day. In the pathway to end homelessness, our breakfast is quality data. We cannot end homelessness without first understanding the prevalence of the problem and the needs of those without housing.

There are a few key ingredients in the recipe for good data:

1)Unsheltered Point-In-Time (PIT) Count – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that communities conduct a sheltered count each year and an unsheltered PIT count every other year. 2015 is an unsheltered PIT year. The PIT occurs on a single night in January, this year it is January 28th. Volunteers will canvas communities to count those living on the street and in shelters to provide an estimate of the number of people who were homeless on that single night. As the National Alliance to End Homelessness says, the PIT counts are “critical for homelessness providers, researchers, funders, and advocates, as they are the only source of national data on the homeless population.” Data from the 2014 count show that homelessness has declined by 11% in the United States since 2007.

Click here to learn more about volunteering for the 2015 PIT count in CT.

2)Youth Count – Youth (those up to age 24) experiencing homelessness are historically undercounted during the PIT. This is because many move from couch-to-couch or stay with friend-to-friend, and there are few crisis and affordable housing options for youth in CT. To gain a better understanding of youth homelessness, CT is hosting its first Youth Count. Data will supplement findings from Invisible No More, which highlights that youth who are homeless are at high risk for victimization and require more supports across the state.

The Youth Count will occur January 19-30th throughout the state, including seven areas with an enhanced focus (Bridgeport, Stamford/Norwalk, Hartford, Meriden, New Haven, Torrington, Waterbury) and has three parts:

  • Statewide anonymous survey asking youth about their housing history, service needs, and demographic information
  • School estimation project in each focus community
  • Collecting agency/aggregate data about youth who are homeless in each focus community

To learn more about the CT Youth Count, contact the CT Coalition to End Homelessness. To learn more about youth counts across the nation, check out Urban Institute’s Youth Count! Process Study.

3)Registry Weeks – To end homelessness in CT, we need to understand the unique needs of every person without a home. Registry Weeks occur on a local level by having volunteers canvas the community and asking those experiencing homelessness questions about their demographics, health, and housing history. This survey, the Vulnerability Index Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT), lets communities identify those who are homeless by face, name, and need, and then prioritize housing resources based on that level of need. All communities have adopted the VI-SPDAT as their common assessment tool, and those who are not already utilizing it will begin administering the survey during the PIT in January.

4)100-Day Challenges - Adding a final jumpstart to the efforts to gather better data and creatively address homelessness is the 100-Day Challenge. During a 100-Day Challenge, a community sets a progressive goal related to homelessness (read about New Haven’s success here) and works under a tight timeline to do so. The challenge’s goal is set by frontline staff and is an opportunity to re-invigorate collaboration and innovation.  Four communities across CT (Fairfield County Southeastern CT, Northeastern CT, and Hartford) will launch 100-Day Challenges in March 2015 and receive guidance and support from the Rapid Results Institute, CT Coalition to End Homelessness, and Community Solutions.

Now as any cook knows, there are always variations to a recipe. And the recipe for better homelessness data is no different. Many other initiatives are simultaneously underway. The Homeless Management Information System and Coordinated Access Network are both evolving so that we can better track individuals through the system and link them to services and housing. Community Care Teams are linking systems and providers at an unprecedented level, making notable progress in identifying and serving frequent visitors to the emergency department who are homeless.

So join the Opening Doors-CT movement, create your own community recipe for data quality, and make your new year’s resolution to focus on ending homelessness in Connecticut through data-driven and evidence-based practice.

Click here to read previous blog posts.