Research Matters Blog
In this bi-weekly blog series, I explore recent research on homelessness, and what it means for the provision of services to prevent or end homelessness. Read the first blog here.
Point-in-time counts, or PITs, have been considered as one potentially valuable method for developing snapshot data to understand homelessness in local communities. The Homeless Hub provides a toolkit to facilitate accurate PIT counts. London, Ontario has taken a slightly different approach to enumeration than the standard PIT methodology. Where PIT counts are intended to reach as broad a number of participants as possible to get an accurate number of individuals experiencing homelessness in a community on a given night, London has instead chosen depth in their enumeration. Rather than short surveys with as many people as possible, London conducted in-depth surveys with 406 participants.
Here are five important lessons we can learn from London’s results:
- Indigenous people continue to be vastly over-represented in homelessness. This finding is important as communities have begun to make moves towards reconciliation. In London, this has included recent development of new affordable housing for Indigenous people, engagement at the municipal council level, and the beginning of an Indigenous specific community plan on ending homelessness. However, while these are important first steps, there is clearly much, much more to be done.
- Child welfare is a pathway into homelessness for many. In the London data, 32% of participants had been in foster care or a group home. Researchers from McGill have identified this disturbing relationship that is a clear point where failed systems are having a downstream impact on other services. Child welfare should be an opportunity to change the story for youth with particular needs, not a pathway into homelessness.
- Homelessness is quite low among older adults. This is in part due to the reality that homelessness is bad for one’s health and life expectancy is statistically significantly lower for those without a home. However, it is also likely a testament to the fact that adults over 65 have access to much better income security through social assistance than younger adults. Older adults provide a natural control population that demonstrates that homelessness can be prevented through sufficient government income.
- Low income causes homelessness and increased income is a solution to homelessness. Following in the previous point, participants were asked to identify the cause of their housing loss and what they needed to find home. The top identified answer on both questions was income, the need for a more sufficient income. Therefore, the discussion of preventing and ending homelessness can’t be had without also addressing poverty in general.
- Quality of data beats quantity of data. The choice in London to focus on data quality versus an accurate snapshot of the breadth of homelessness on a given night has proven valuable. While the general public and media often seek a number of people experiencing homelessness, the deeper data instead allows for strategic decision-making around resources and activities. We don’t necessarily need a specific number to know that homelessness, and particularly chronic homelessness, are urgent issues in our community. Instead, we have data that points to some solutions to these issues.
Evaluation is one of those things where a little goes a long way. Even though it comes in all shapes and sizes, adding a little survey here, a little check in there can make all the difference. Here are our top 5 reasons why adding a little evaluation processes to your program will help take your organization to the next level.
- It helps you better understand your initiative! With all the hustle and bustle that goes into actually executing an initiative, evaluation is a place where you can take a pause and reflect on your accomplishments and where you would like to go. There are many different ways to reflect; an impact evaluation might focus on what outcomes or targets you achieved, whereas a process evaluation perhaps focuses more on the day to day workflow that got you there. For initiatives that have a lot of natural ebb and flow, a developmental evaluation approach works with you and takes into account the fluctuations as a natural and normal thing. Not only is getting feedback helpful in the moment, but it can also support with sustainability. Burnout and turnover is no stranger in the homelessness sector, and evaluation is a built-in initiative that can help you address those pain points and minimize these issues from the start.
- It can support your organization’s strategic goals. We often work for organizations that are built up of many different initiatives that are (ideally) value aligned and/or trying to achieve some lofty strategic goals. But how do you know for sure that your piece fits into the puzzle? At Hub Solutions, we love that evaluation is an accountability arm just as much as it is a tool for operational change. Something as simple as asking 1-2 questions on a survey or in an interview (or heck- even a standing agenda item) can help you and your team reorient the spirit of your initiative and correct the course, if needed. It also provides documentation for executive management to make data-informed decisions on their initiatives as a whole.
- It gives your funding proposals an edge. Let’s face it: Funders love data. With so many proposals going into every funding call, having an extra oomf that reaffirms your initiatives awesomeness can help it stand out in the crowd. You know your initiative is important and needed; the evaluation just helps you communicate that in a different way. To start, it doesn’t need to be a published report or a comprehensive analysis. Even just collecting a couple of stats and quotes can really go a long way. On that note, incorporating a more fleshed-out evaluation component to your proposal also helps boost your legitimacy. It shows the funders that you are serious about your sustainability, and you want to see your initiative through. If you need a hand, you can always reach out to our Hub Solutions team, and we’ll help you prep the evaluation component of your proposal for free!
- It helps others learn from you. As amazing as your initiative is, we know that homelessness is an issue that is not going to be solved through one program or organization. We need to work together! This means that we need to get better at sharing intel and lessons learned so we can help build each other up! It also means supporting sister initiatives who might be starting similar programs, perhaps in different geographic locations or contexts. Most of this information is already passed along through dialogue - and while connection is also very important, putting together a front-facing high level report helps that organizational connection even more. Evaluation is a powerful tool to help collect overall thoughts in one place, the struggles, tensions and lessons learned, and saves your organization time and energy if someone approaches you looking to learn more.
- It helps your professional development! The feedback and recommendations received during an evaluation can help organizations with their strategic planning efforts. In particular, findings from evaluations can help identify next steps in an organization's professional growth. For example, evaluations may highlight a need for enhanced staff training or increased participation from individuals with lived experience of homelessness. Through a thorough review of your program, opportunities for organizational improvements are boundless.
Working on something special and need a hand? You’re in luck! Hub Solutions is giving away a FREE evaluation consultation this fall! Fill out this short 15 minute application and enter to win a free evaluation consultation from our Hub Solutions team!
Need a hand today? The Hub Solutions team is still around to meet your evaluation needs! Contact our Director of Research and Evaluation, John Ecker, for more information or answers to questions on the evaluation consultation giveaway.
As Canadian Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, I’m reflecting on the wonderful things we are thankful for at A Way Home Canada. As I’ve written about many times in the past, so much of our learning about necessary shifts in how we respond to youth homelessness in Canada come from around the world. This process of shared learning is ongoing and informs everything we do in reimagining solutions to youth homelessness through transformations in policy, planning and practice. It’s also humbling to know that our efforts with A Way Home Canada have inspired communities, states and other countries to join this international movement for change.
Guess what? Now we have an entire continent on board (Europe), with another (Australia - well, it’s both a continent and a country) poised to kick-off their A Way Home efforts in Spring 2019! So what does this all mean? It means we have additional partners to engage in shared learning about effective solutions in policy, practice and planning for preventing and ending youth homelessness. It allows us to have an even stronger collective voice to advocate with and for young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. It helps ensure youth homelessness as a fusion policy issue is on the map and can no longer be ignored. It pushes the agenda on prevention to be less of an issue of when we’ll get to it and more about how we’ll get it done.
In the coming months, we’ll be working with AWH partners from around the world to draft and build consensus on a set of shared international principles that guide the A Way Home movement for change. These principles will be grounded in the experiences and wisdom of people with lived experience of youth homelessness. They will serve to remind us of the values that drive our collective work.
A Way Home Europe is an initiative of the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA). FEANTSA brings together non-profit services that support people experiencing homelessness in Europe. FEANTSA has over 130 member organizations from 30 countries, including 28 Member States. A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness have a solid history of collaboration with FEANTSA and FEANTSA Youth. (Fun fact - one of FEANTSA’s employees/one of our favourite co-conspirators in Brussels is a Canadian - from Edmonton no less!) Recent collaborations include the development of the THIS is Housing First for Youth Program Model Guide and the adaptation and translation of the Youth Rights, Right Now! Human Rights Guide for a number of European countries.
“FEANTSA is proud to start disseminating the A Way Home movement in Europe. With the support of AWH Canada and other international guests from Wales and Australia, the launch in Antwerp (Belgium) last month was a success. In October, we will be launching the local coalition in Villach (Austria) and, in November, www.awayhome.eu will allow us to share our experiences within the A Way Home Europe Hub!” - Stéphane Leclercq, A Way Home Europe Project Officer
Meet Stéphane Leclercq, a Project Officer with A Way Home Europe. He has kindly offered to explain the details of the A Way Home Europe project. Stéphane, we couldn’t be more excited to work with you on this!Thanks, Melanie. Between April 2018 and March 2020, a European consortium between the Flemish Agency for Youth Welfare Agency (BE), Artesis Plantijn University College - AP (BE), Cachet (BE), the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless - FEANTSA (EU), the European Network of Social Authorities - ENSA (EU) and the Carinthian Government - Social Affairs and Society (AT), Diakonie (AT) is developing the “A Way Home – Europe” project on after care strategies for young care leavers. It is launching three work streams:
- FOR LOCAL COALITIONS : the “A Way Home Europe (AWH)” Hub. Based on the Canadian AWH movement and the experience of European pilot cities, the AWH Europe Hub will provide resources for European cities to launch and/or support local coalitions in order to reach a collective impact by generating and implementing a plan on preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness.
- FOR SERVICE PROVIDERS : the “After Care Protocol” with a toolbox and a training package. The protocol is a set of standards, measures, actions and engagements that service providers have to fulfil regarding their clients who will leave care and also during a (limited) period after they’ve left care. It describes the steps that have to be put into place for successful after care trajectories, that addresses the known gaps the youngster might occur, both in preparations for leaving care and for aftercare supports (legal conditions and quality standards).
- Dissemination Activities and Communication Tools.
All the information about the project activities, seminars and materials will be available on www.awayhome.eu (coming soon!)
This blog post is part of our series which highlights sessions of the 2018 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. Hear Cora MacDonald and Lauren Kimura speak on Tuesday, November 6th at 3:30 PM. Learn more about this upcoming conference presented by CAEH.
To channel more direct involvement of people with lived experience (PWLE) in research, a growing number of projects are adopting a ‘peer research’ approach in which members of the target population participate in some or all aspects of the research process. Peer research approaches have been used for researching historically marginalized communities and issues, including HIV/AIDS, drug use, and homelessness. The benefits of meaningfully including peers in research design and delivery are vast. Peers can provide extensive “insider” knowledge about the subjectivities of those experiencing social and health issues, and can positively influence the quality and impact of research. Likewise, hiring and supporting peers in research capacities can provide them with opportunities for training and work experience, enabling the development of new skills and knowledge.
Despite clear advantages to involving peers in different aspects of the research process, consideration for the time, resources and supports required to meaningfully support peers in a safe, appropriate and ethical manner is often overlooked in the initial planning and early implementation of research programs. In the At Home/Chez Soi study, researchers and field interviewers identified time-allocation and a lack of resources as the biggest obstacles for engaging adults with lived experience of homelessness and mental illness as members of various project research teams. Researchers in a multi-method HIV community-based research study similarly found that inadequate infrastructure and support contributed to distinct challenges for peer research assistants conducting research.
In this presentation, we will share some of the challenges encountered and learning derived as research leads supporting research assistants with lived experience of homelessness working on a community-based, randomized, controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of Housing First interventions for youth experiencing homelessness. We will review and reflect on our ongoing journey to collaboratively develop strategies to best support research assistants with lived experience of homelessness in their work and within our organization.
Since April 2017, Making the Shift – a partnership between A Way Home Canada (AWHC) and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH), with the support of MaRS Centre for Impact Investing (MaRS) – has been reimagining our response to youth homelessness through social innovation. As a project within Making the Shift, the Ottawa Housing First for Youth demonstration project was launched in February 2018, the goal of the Making the Shift: Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) Demonstration Project(s) is to investigate the effects of Housing First for youth experiencing homelessness. One of the central tenets of ending homelessness and Housing First is the belief that people experiencing or with experience of homelessness should be engaged in the decisions, policies and evaluation of the programs that impact them. A s a result, priority consideration for research assistant positions was given to people with lived experience of homelessness. It became clear early in the implementation of the project that Making the Shift needed to assess how best to support PWLE in multi-method research processes.
We found that practices informed by the following attributes were the most effective for supporting peers in research capacities:
- Flexibility/Individualization: PLWE of homelessness may have different working styles and needs than the general working public. The road to success is not a one-size-fits-all; it is important to tailor responsibilities and supports to meet staff where they are.
- Mentorship: On-going formal and informal mentorship is vital to meaningfully supporting individuals in the field and with tasks related to the research process. Stable, dependable, and resilient mentorship and support can make all the difference.
- Reciprocal learning: PLWE and those supporting them learn from one another. We support staff by providing context and guidance on research protocols in addition to practical skills in methods and data analysis. Researchers with lived experience provide invaluable knowledge on how to interact with, engage with, and support participants.
This sneak peak of our presentation for CAEH 2018 highlights attributes that ought to guide practical strategies for supporting people with lived experience in research capacities and beyond. We hope that our reflections and recommendations will be adapted and incorporated by others in both research and service provision.
Phase One of Making the Shift, a Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab, is funded in part by the Government of Canada's Youth Employment Strategy.
In this bi-weekly blog series, I explore recent research on homelessness, and what it means for the provision of services to prevent or end homelessness. Read the first blog here.
Policies tell a story. For example, workplaces requiring a doctor’s note to confirm illness tells us that there is a lack of trust around workers (recent legislation in Ontario now prevents this requirement). Undergraduate university admissions policies that are based only on grades tell the story of the absolute value of academic achievement over other experiences.
So, what story does this policy tell: In Massachusetts, since September 2002, for families to access emergency shelter they have to either 1) experience domestic violence, 2) a natural disaster, 3) a no-fault eviction, or 4) have stayed somewhere not meant for human habitation (such as a hospital emergency department). Proof of unintentional housing loss just to access emergency shelter, a concept that seems foreign to most Canadians, I would hope.
But let’s go beyond the philosophical concerns with this policy and let’s analyze it more objectively. Knowing that families will be in need of shelter who don’t meet the first three criteria, what can they do? Well, they can bring their children to the emergency department so that the next night they can gain admission to a shelter. Sure enough, in late 2002, hospitals started to report a significant uptick in the number of families accessing shelter, particularly those who have no fixed address.
This led Dr. Mia Kanak, Dr. Megan Sandel and colleagues to wonder about the costs to the healthcare system created by this policy; a policy grounded in distrust of families to truly need shelter. Is Massachusetts reducing shelter utilization by simply creating more costly emergency department utilization? To do so, they conducted a retrospective study of 6 years of healthcare utilization data in Boston, MA.
Results from their study are stunning: An increase in median visits per month for homeless children from 3.0 to 16.5; an increase in median length of stay from 3.1 to 8.2 hours; and over $200,000 in Medicaid costs. This is in just one emergency department in one city in the state. They estimate that what was spent to house families in emergency departments would have funded 1,594 shelter nights for families.
Here in London, Ontario, we refer to policies that have unintended consequences as “stupid rules”. The Massachusetts examples uses good research evidence to show that this requirement to demonstrate eligibility for access to shelters for families is a stupid rule, simply shifting burdens to other public systems and, ultimately, not solving the issue at hand: families left in states of homeless.
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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.