Taking Action

After the Count

Sound data management is important not only to ensure quality analysis but also to protect the confidentiality of participants. Typically, communities conducting PiT Counts put data management protocols in place prior to implementing their counts. This ensures that all physical and electronic data is organized and protected. A Youth Count is no different.

The storage of the raw data is an important matter that should be handled carefully. Online documents should be locked and password protected. Protocols should be in place that indicate who has access to data, including survey forms, and for what purpose.

You should agree ahead of time on who owns the data gathered from this process and who has access to it. Access can be granted partially to certain components of the data as well. The lead organization may have full control of the data, while other partners can sign data sharing agreements. – Excerpt from the COH PiT Count Toolkit

A Focus on Youth

For some, data input and analysis can be daunting. However, Youth Count data can be easily managed and interpreted with a good foundational knowledge of Excel and an understanding of basic mathematical techniques – such as means, medians and cross tabulation (many of which can be researched online). Nonetheless, we encourage you to utilize the resources in your community. Partner with students, academics or researchers in the social sciences, preferably ones familiar with survey design and implementation.    

Before the Count

Though data input and analysis happens after the Youth Count, you will need to develop a data management plan well in advance of the count. As you develop your protocol, consider the following: 

TABLE 11. DEVELOPING A DATA MANAGEMENT PLAN

Security of Survey Forms

Survey forms, including photocopies, scanned versions and incomplete forms must be kept securely. How will you secure the completed forms during and immediately after the count? Where will survey forms be kept in the days and weeks following the count? When will they be destroyed? How will they be destroyed? Who will have access to them?

Security of Electronic Data

Once the surveys are inputted, you must take steps to secure all raw data. Carefully consider who will have access to the data. Where will it be stored? How will it be shared?

Ownership

Issues of data ownership should be resolved well before data collection takes place. The Youth Count Committee should agree, in writing, to who owns the data and how access will be granted. The owner of the data should be responsible for maintaining all security measures agreed upon by the Committee. 

Data Input

How many completed surveys do you expect to get? Who will input the data? The Youth Count Coordinator? Youth Count partners? Volunteers? Who will oversee the process?

Data Input Template

We recommend that you create a data input template in Excel. If you plan to analyse the data in SPSS or another statistical software package, ensure that the template can be easily imported. Note: most PiT Count analysis can be done in Excel. 

Data Input Protocol

If more than one person is inputting data, we recommend that you create a data input protocol. A set of instructions that explains how to resolve common issues such as: determining the eligibility of survey participants, ambiguous responses and conflicting information.

Analysis

Who will conduct the data analysis? Use your Youth Count survey to develop a number of research questions in advance of the analysis. Consult your Youth Count Committee and partners to determine what information will be useful.

Deduplication

As noted previously, there is a greater chance of duplication in a Youth Count than there is in a PiT Count. We recommend that you use unique identifiers, which will facilitate deduplication during data analysis.

Volunteer Training

Once you have developed your data management plan, consider what role your volunteers will play in maintaining the security of data and ensuring high quality data collection. Effective training for all volunteers – whether they are surveying, helping out at headquarters or inputting data – will decrease the likelihood of errors.

After the Count

Once the count is complete, take the following steps:

1. Review the survey forms and tally sheets

As soon after the count as possible, ideally the day after, go through the paper surveys and check for missing entries, ambiguous answers and anomalies. Contact volunteers, while the information is still fresh, to resolve any issues.

2. Input data

It is not necessary to catch all errors or inconsistences prior to the data input stage. There will be additional opportunities to clean the data. Start inputting the data, based on the protocol you established prior to the count. If volunteers are inputting the data, ensure they receive sufficient training beforehand. The Youth Count Coordinator must be available to answer questions and resolve issues while data input is taking place.

3. Keep a record of decisions

Write down everything! Keep a record of decisions that are made during data input. For example: if a youth selects more than one gender, how did you input the response? A detailed record will give you something to refer to, to ensure consistency. This is especially important if more than one person is inputting data.

Helpful Resource

After the Count: Data Entry and Cleaning (PPT) –Christina Maes Nino, Community Animator, Social Planning Council of Winnipeg

*Available on the COH Workspace on Homelessness

4. Determine eligibility

It is likely that ineligible participants will complete the survey. During the input and analysis phase, remove anyone that does not fit your criteria. For instance, a youth who indicates that they are have a permanent residence and are staying with their parents on the night of the count should be removed from the dataset. Youth over the age of 24 should also be removed.

5. Remove duplicates

Remove surveys with unique identifiers that appear more than once. Compare other data points to remove likely duplicates that were not caught by the unique ID system. If two entries seem suspiciously similar, compare the survey times and locations. Only remove entries if you are certain they are redundant.

Helpful Resource

After the Count: Data Entry and Cleaning (PPT) –Christina Maes Nino, Community Animator, Social Planning Council of Winnipeg

*Available on the COH Workspace on Homelessness

6. Data cleaning

Check your dataset for illogical values or conflicting information. For example, if a 16-year-old youth indicates that they first experienced homelessness at age 18, you know this is an error. You should refer back to the paper survey to determine whether this is a recording error or a data input mistake. Remove entries that cannot be corrected. Remember to record this decision.

7. Analyzing Data

Once the dataset is complete, you can analyze the data. Basic analysis can be done in Excel. You may require statistical software to do more advanced analysis. Refer to the research questions you established at the outset of the count. Which types of information will be most useful in understanding youth homelessness in your community? Refer to PiT Count reports for useful examples.

Building Alignment: Tips & Strategies

At the outset of planning, you will need to determine whether the Youth Count data will be analysed separately from the general PiT Count results. Will the datasets be combined as one? The general PiT Count should report all individuals experiencing homelessness, including youth. However, there is merit in conducting a complimentary analysis with the surveys collected from youth participants. Without this information, it will not be possible to create a discrete Youth Count report.

Note: if the general PiT Count and the Youth Count use different screening criteria, there may be discrepancies in the reported number of youth experiencing homelessness. For instance, the general PiT Count organizers may choose not to report on hidden homelessness, whereas Youth Count organizers are strongly encouraged to include forms of hidden homelessness, such as couch surfing. To minimize discrepancies, we encourage you to work with general PiT Count organizers to develop consistent screening criteria. 

The final report is a key component of any PiT Count. There are many ways that count data can be effectively communicated but most PiT Count reports share common elements. The most effective PiT Count reports are concise, descriptive and easily understood by a wide-range of audiences. 

A Focus on Youth

Youth Count reports are much like PiT Count reports, with the obvious exception that Youth Count reports have the added task of outlining the unique causes and consequences of youth homelessness. Your local Youth Count report is not only an opportunity to share the results of the count, but to inform key stakeholders, the media and the public about the issue of youth homelessness. The COH recommends that you include the following sections in your Youth Count report.

TABLE 12. COMPONENTS OF A YOUTH COUNT REPORT

The Count

Based on the results of your analysis, you should provide communities with the number of youth that were found to be experiencing homelessness during the count. You must clearly communicate that the count represents the minimum number of homeless youth in your community. Certain forms of homelessness, such as couch-surfing, are not accurately captured through the youth count methodology. Similarly, youth living in unsheltered environments may go to great lengths to remain unseen. 

Key Demographics

Provide a summary of key demographics (ex. percentage of Indigenous and newcomer youth) and significant findings.

Acknowledgements

Acknowledge the contributions of all Youth Count partners, including funders, participating agencies, emergency services.

Definition of Homelessness

Be sure to include a definition of homelessness. It is important for readers to understand that the experience of homelessness covers a vast range of living situations. Indicate which types of homelessness the Youth Count includes, and which types are beyond the scope of the exercise. For more information, refer to the Canadian Definition of Youth Homelessness.

Methodology

Briefly explain your methodology, including any limitations or unusual circumstances that could have affected data collection. Provide information on the number of volunteers that attended training and participated in the count. If you see merit in providing a detailed description of your methods, include such information in an appendix.

Community Information

Information about your community, including average housing prices, vacancy rates, annual shelter use and other housing and homelessness indicators can provide context to the Youth Count data. 

Results

The data analysis and results should form the bulk of the Youth Count report. Use graphs and visual representations to make the data clearly understood. Where appropriate, contextualize the data. Consider how your results compare to other research on youth homelessness. 

Recommendations for Future Counts

For the benefit of other communities and future count organizers in your community, include a section with key learning  and recommendations for future counts. Solicit input from the Youth Count Committee and the Youth Subcommittee on what worked well and where there are areas for improvement.

Appendices

We recommend, at minimum, that you include your Youth Count survey in an appendix. It is helpful for other communities as they design their own Youth Count survey. 

Helpful Resource

Examples of PiT Count reports from other communities can be found on the COH Workspace on Homelessness.

Other Tips:

  • Reiterate, throughout the report, that the Youth Count yields the minimum number of youth experiencing homelessness in your community.

  • The Youth Count report should be engaging and easily read. Though some technical information is required, use plain language wherever possible.

  • Ensure that your report is visually engaging. Reports with visual interest and design elements are received more widely than those that are more academic in nature. Remember – the Youth Count is an opportunity for engagement! Your Youth Subcommittee may have helpful input on the look and the feel of the report.

  • Prepare a press release to accompany your final report. Include key messages, quotes from stakeholders and youth and a clear explanation of what the count does and does not cover. This will ensure that your messaging is clear, consistent and interpreted correctly.

  • Circulate widely! Develop a communications plan. Who will receive the report? Will you hold launch event? How will you ensure that survey participants have the option to receive the final report?

A Note on Reporting Hidden Homelessness

Typically, the PiT Count methodology does not capture hidden homelessness. The Youth Count, though modified to capture at least some of this population, is likely to miss those that are entirely unconnected from services. This will result in an undercount. As a result, hidden homelessness numbers should be communicated carefully. The COH proposes two different ways to communicate data on couch surfing youth:

THE AGGREGATED APPROACH

The Aggregated Approach

The aggregated approach combines all living situations into a single count. The unsheltered, emergency sheltered and provisionally accommodated populations are combined into a single number that is reported as the count. The aggregated approach is most appropriate where couch surfing makes up a significant portion of the total Youth Count sample.

THE DELINEATED APPROACH

The Delineated Approach

The delineated approach keeps the hidden homelessness numbers separate from the unsheltered, emergency sheltered and transitional housing numbers. The “count” and the survey data are analysed separately. For more information on the benefits of the delineated approach, refer to the COH Webinar on Reporting Hidden Homelessness.

Building Alignment: Tips & Strategies

Prior to data collection, carefully consider how the results of the general PiT Count and Youth Count will be communicated. While it is possible to publish a combined report, we recommend that you release a discrete report on the experiences of homeless youth. Work with general PiT Count organizers to ensure that all count reports are consistent and coordinated. 

Communities across Canada have effectively used PiT Count data to measure progress towards ending homelessness, as a tool for system planning and a mechanism to rehouse individuals experiencing homelessness. A count should been seen as more than a data collection exercise. The process holds communities accountable for their efforts to end homelessness. It provides funders, system planners and service providers with the information they need to make adjustments and continuously improve community-wide responses to homelessness. 

Consider using the date to shed light of some pointed questions like:

  • What is the relationship between the number of homeless enumerated and the core housing need rate in my community?
  • What does the occupancy rate of emergency shelters on the night of the count tell me about the homeless population's needs?
  • What explains some of the differences in characteristics between the homeless enumerated in emergency shelters and those sleeping rough?
  • Why are certain sub-groups overrepresented in the Count?
  • What would it take to rehouse every person we enumerated?
  • How can we leverage the attention the Count brought to the issue?
  • Why are there rough sleepers when there are shelter spaces available?
  • How do macro-economic trends impacting my community play out with respect to homelessness? 

– Excerpt from the COH PiT Count Toolkit

A Focus on Youth

Across Canada, we are experiencing an increased commitment to ending youth homelessness. With this commitment comes a growing recognition that putting an end to youth homelessness requires a deliberate and coordinated effort. Youth Count data provides a basis for this effort and a mechanism to measure progress.

Helpful Resource

For more information on Community Plans to End Youth Homelessness, visit A Way Home

Plans to End Youth Homelessness

If your community is without a plan to end youth homelessness, a Youth Count is a good platform to build community interest and action around the issue. Youth plans should be informed, in part, by Youth Count data. More often than not, Youth Count stakeholders will be more than willing to participate in the development of a community-wide plan.

Communities with existing plans to end youth homelessness should use Youth Count data to measure progress against key objectives. Consider whether your youth plan addresses the issues identified through the Youth Count. For example, if your count reveals an overrepresentation of youth that identify as LGBTQ2S, your plan should include specific strategies to address this overrepresentation. Be prepared to reprioritize as you conduct successive counts. 

Youth Counts can also bolster efforts to implement provincial/territorial plans to end youth homelessness. The COH strongly recommends that communities coordinate with one another, to both plan Youth Counts and to mobilize the results. 

Hint!

Service use is not always connected to availability. For example: If a notable proportion of youth indicate they have not used emergency shelter services, carefully consider the reasons. It may be due to a lack of beds. Alternatively, youth may feel unsafe, unwelcome and/or discriminated against by shelter providers. 

Program Planning

Youth Count data can be used, with other community-level data, to inform service delivery and the development of new programs and initiatives. For example, if your Youth Count reveals an overrepresentation of newcomer youth, your community should consider whether the current programs for newcomer youth are adequate in size and scope. Alternatively, communities may find that Youth Count data provides a compelling argument for services that do not yet exist. For instance, dedicated accommodation for LGBTQ2S youth or youth outreach services.

Housing

Youth Counts, similar to PiT counts, can be used as the first-step of a rehousing initiative. Some youth may be prepared to live independently, with few supports. Other youth may prefer to live in a supportive environment with access to various resources. Consult with stakeholders to determine whether your community is prepared to undertake a rehousing process as part of the Youth Count. Note: a rehousing initiative will require that you collect names and contact details of the Youth Count participants. We recommend that you collect this information separately, rather than on the survey form. The Youth Count survey is not an assessment tool. A follow-up conversation will be required to determine the housing and support needs of youth, thus it is not necessary to link contact details to the survey form.

The Count process does not have to be simply be about collecting data about homeless people in your community; it can be a tool to help your community begin working together to end homelessness. Ensuring ahead of time that you have assessed your community’s ability to take action will facilitate the transition from survey analysis to the rehousing phase.

  • You may find 10, 20, 50 people on the street. What will you, as a community do about it?
  • What partners and resources can you bring together to rehouse and support these individuals in their new homes?
  • Where can you secure subsidies that could be set aside for the purpose of rehousing the survey participants?
  • Are there affordable housing providers that could set aside units for those identified in the survey?
  • Are there private sector landlords willing to work with service provider to rehouse homeless individuals?

– Excerpt from the COH PiT Count Toolkit

Building Alignment: Tips & Strategies

Effective responses to youth homelessness do not occur in a vacuum. The results of a combined PiT Count and Youth Count should inform a coordinated, system wide response. As a community, consider questions such as “to what extent does the prevalence of youth homelessness in our community contribute to episodic or chronic adult homelessness?” Use the results to determine whether resources are adequately allocated throughout the community.

 

The Youth Count Toolkit was generously funded and supported by the Laidlaw Foundation.

Laidlaw Foundation logo.