A Closer Look: Opening Doors, As Amended in 2015 - Spotlight on Use of Data
To accompany the release of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015, we’re taking a closer look at each of the four key updates to the document.
Spotlight on Uses of Data in Decision-Making and Performance Management
“Before Opening Doors, communities were targeting their resources inconsistently, and many weren’t sure how to do it at all. The Plan has provided a concrete framework that has helped communities match the right resources to the right populations. It has also spurred communities to adopt better ways of measuring their work. We’ve seen over a hundred communities begin to track their housing placements against monthly goals to ensure they are on track to meet the Opening Doors deadlines, a behavior we know correlates with improved local housing performance.” - Beth Sandor, Director of Zero: 2016 for Community Solutions
Data helps us to end homelessness. It allows us to understand the needs of people experiencing homelessness in our communities, put resources in the right place, and measure the results of our efforts.
That's why data takes on even more importance in the newly amended Opening Doors. We have added new strategies related to the use of data in two ways:
- Improving data collection and integration at the Federal level to increase our understanding of the full scope of and trend on homelessness
- Supporting the use of data at the community-level to improve the delivery of housing and services to people experiencing homelessness
Improving Federal Data Collection and Integration
The Federal government collects data on homelessness in many ways. To help us get a clearer picture of the full scope of homelessness, we need to integrate those sources where we can. Where we can’t, we need to make sure that our data is using the same language – that we are comparing apples to apples.
One example of Federal efforts to integrate data sources is the integration of Homeless Management Information System and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Management Information System. This integration is an important step towards improving our understanding of the scale and needs of youth homelessness both locally and nationally, and will foster greater collaboration among youth-serving providers and Continuums of Care. In addition, Federal agencies are working on guidance and tools to encourage mainstream public systems to track and collect data on homelessness among clients. For example, HHS will soon be issuing guidance for TANF agencies on how to assess and track housing status and homelessness among TANF recipients.
Meanwhile, Federal agencies are working to improve the data collection on homelessness by issuing improved data standards and guidance and providing tools to support improved data collection. For example, HUD is supporting communities’ ability to conduct annual Point-in-Time (PIT) counts that accurately count people experiencing both sheltered and unsheltered homelessness, especially youth.
Supporting the Use of Data to Drive Community Efforts
Over the past few years, we have seen that the communities that have made the fastest progress in ending homelessness are those who are actively using data to measure, track, and improve the performance of programs and services. We have added strategies reflecting this local use of data to:
- Conduct systems planning
- Measure program performance
- Make resource allocation decisions
- Inform targeting of programs and services
Rural Clallam County, Washington and the state of Michigan are just two of the places where data is giving providers the ability to assess progress across programs and make adjustments to get to better outcomes.
In another example, communities that have signed on to Zero: 2016 are using data to reach their targets for ending Veteran and chronic homelessness. Using customized Gap Analysis Tools provided by Zero: 2016 (see photo to right), communities are assessing their targets against available housing resources in their community.
The state of Michigan provides an example of how data integration can be put to use on the ground in communities to end homelessness.
“At the state and funding organization level, a shared set of core outcomes have been developed that may be run for individual programs, agencies as a whole, CoCs, regions, and statewide,” said Barb Ritter, Project Director of the Michigan Statewide HMIS. “Benchmarks for each outcome have been published to insure apples to apples comparisons can be made. Shelters are assessed across five different program typologies and all other programs have benchmarks that reflect community and/or program size.”
In order to help communities better collect and utilize data, Federal agencies have committed to new strategies in Opening Doors:
- Increasing community capacity to analyze Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data and match it with other administrative data to determine the use of other public services like health care and corrections.
- Promoting data-driven client engagement and housing placement efforts in which communities set specific short-term goals to connect people experiencing homelessness to housing and services appropriate to their needs, and where data on engagements and housing placements is used to track performance against those goals.
We’ll be reporting on the progress of those strategies in future blogs as we continue our work together to end homelessness.
Here is what our staff says about Opening Doors:
Opening Doors is a living compilation of strategies that evolved into THE blueprint for cities and states to address homelessness in coordination effectively, across America. Direct service providers, almost immediately, began to coordinate their strategies and services, which afforded them the capacity to do more with less. Opening Doors has given hope to the service providers in knowing that they are making a positive difference in their communities. It’s also given hope to our most vulnerable neighbors experiencing homelessness, whether chronic, Veteran, family, or youth, that there are those who are rolling up their sleeves and designating funds for programs to address this social injustice.
Here we are, five years later, and the statistics speak for themselves! There’s been a decrease for all homelessness populations throughout the country! The work of many is reflected in every Opening Doors Plan annual update and amendment. I look forward to continuing with the work that drives all of the homeless populations numbers to zero. - Chrischanne Smith, Staff Assistant
Having started my career advocating on behalf of vulnerable individuals, families, and youth on the state level, I’ve learned that the two most important pieces of evidence in persuading government officials to enact and implement laws and policies that improve the lives of vulnerable people are data and the narratives of the people behind the data.
Opening Doors presents both pieces of evidence in compelling ways in its vision that no one should experience homelessness. It highlights strategies to integrate or align disparate data systems that will improve systems planning, program performance, and the targeting of programs and services. It remains laser-focused on data-driven approaches to end Veteran homelessness. It emphasizes permanent supportive housing as a cost-effective and evidence-based way to end chronic homelessness. It also outlines key research-based actions necessary to end family homelessness and lays the groundwork for ending youth homelessness.
But to simply read through the refreshed and reinvigorated strategies is not enough. Take some time to discover the effects of these strategies on Linda and DeJuan, who have obtained housing and employment through rapid re-housing, or Mickey, who has been able to escape the cycle of incarceration and frequent shelter visits with the assistance of coordinated entry staff, or Tom, who is now able to access vital mental health services through permanent supportive housing. It is these individuals’ stories – and the stories of 62,042 people who have successfully exited homelessness since the launch of Opening Doors – that are proving that we have the right strategies in place to end homelessness for once and for all. - Peter Nicewicz, Management and Program Analyst