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Data’s Role in the Housing First Movement

Data’s Role in the Housing First Movement

Breaking the Cycle for the Chronically Homeless

There has been a sea change in the battle against homelessness. For years, organizations dedicated to fighting homelessness have prioritized the underlying causes. Mental health, employment, financial stability, and other issues were addressed based on the theory that helping clients fix these problems would lead to stable housing. Housing First instead, as the name suggests, emphasizes putting people into housing first and then offering other services those clients need. The Housing First model also stresses collaboration between service providers.

In the last decade, more and more evidence has been collected about the causes of homelessness, and the best way to get people into housing. In many cases, research has found that Housing First initiatives are not only more effective at getting and keeping people housed, but that they are significantly more cost-effective than not housing people who are homeless. In a Housing First program implemented in Canada, for instance, every $10 invested in the program resulted in overall cost savings of almost $7. And for the highest need clients, every $10 invested resulted in savings of almost $22.

Housing First isn’t just a quick fix either. Despite the previous theory that homeless individuals could not keep stable housing without addressing their other needs, studies have found clients in a Housing First model have a 77% retention rate in housing.

Research has also found other benefits in utilizing the Housing First model, such as a reduction in the number of days experiencing alcohol-related issues, the number of trips to the emergency room, and increased mental health wellbeing.

Housing First models have recently seen an unprecedented uptick in popularity in the United States, Canada, and a number of other countries. Much of this buy-in can be attributed to the fact that Housing First is no longer just a concept or a theory. It’s now an evidence-based policy with a proven track record, with the data to support its impact.

Because it’s a proven evidence-based model, Housing First meticulously collects data from organizations utilizing this practice. Outcomes must be measured and tracked in order to ensure program fidelity, and to make adjustments that best serve those impacted by Housing First programs across the world.

Making the Shift to Housing First

If your agency’s mission is to stop homelessness, what does Housing First mean to you? How can your organization adapt to provide services in this way and be eligible for the funding connected to this movement? It’s critical that your organization looks at the data being collecting, how it’s collected, and what partners can be included in the data collection process. You may find that your organization needs to revamp its data management system entirely, in order to position itself to be a Housing First organization.

One organization that did just that is the Alberta Housing Collaborative (AHC). According to Alberta Human Services, the recent economic boom in the region’s economy drove up the cost of living and left many homeless. The AHC was formed as part of a 10-year strategic plan to end homelessness in 2009. In order to hit such an ambitious deadline, AHC was designed to collaborate with community-based organizations, housing service providers, funders, and government entities.

AHC knew a critical part of their success would be the outcomes-focused contracts that would allow participating agencies to measure their success. In dealing with so many collaborative partners, AHC needed to rethink the way they used their Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), as well as how they collected and acted on information about the homeless clients they were serving. They also needed to empower their partners with data that would allow them to fulfill their outcomes-focused contracts.

AHC knew that in order to be successful, they needed a customizable, web-based HMIS to collect meaningful data from their many partner agencies. They were looking for a system that would identify solutions and best practices, inform their service delivery, assist in their strategic planning efforts, and help measure their progress, both as a collective and at the individual agency level.

As Sherry Desanko, Manager of HMIS Systems and Program Evaluation for AHC, put it:

“When selecting a platform for our network of partners, we were looking for something that could accommodate the size and scope of our network of partners, and be flexible enough to meet our changing needs as the Housing First approach was implemented.”

After searching for the right solution, AHC decided that Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) software by Social Solutions was the right choice. ETO is the HMIS software that has allowed AHC to not only coordinate the continuum of care services offered by member agencies, but also to track and analyze outcomes for clients moving through member agency programs.

Looking to Implement Housing First?

Is your organization interested in or actively starting a Housing First project? Let Social Solutions support your efforts with robust HMIS software that can be tailored to meet your organization’s needs. Contact one of our Social Solutions specialists to find out how ETO software can help you obtain the kind of results achieved by the AHC and other collaborative Housing First projects.