Guest Blog: Ben Cattell Noll
Friendship Place, Washington, DC
Rapid re-housing is still a relative newcomer as an intervention to end homelessness. While we have learned a lot from the years of implementation so far, there is still much that is unknown (for a wonderful assessment of this, read the Urban Institute’s report “Rapid Re-Housing: What the Research Says”).
So, how do we hold ourselves accountable to best practices and improve our programs without established, evidence-based standards? We use our data! There are a million things we could measure to try and demonstrate our impact, but to truly assess if we are doing what we say we want to do, we simply need to break down WHAT we are trying to do.
If the program is not moving quickly, it is not working properly. What is the average length of time between when you identify someone experiencing homelessness and when they sign a lease and move into their own housing? What are the barriers to doing this in your community and how are you assisting people in working around them? Are there barriers your own program is putting in place that are extending the time people are spending in homelessness?
Housing is the primary focus of this intervention. Sure, we care about people getting jobs and improving their income and connecting with needed health and community resources, but the truest (and easiest!) way to understand whether we are doing what we say we want to do is by looking at what percentage of our participants are connecting to permanent housing while in our program.
To End Homelessness
Case management that helps people stay in housing is one of the three core components of the intervention. This case management means doing many of the things I just described; helping people increase their income, find childcare, connect to supports in their communities, etc. But, we can measure whether we are impactful or not without tracking ALL of these outcomes. How many people are returning to homelessness after completing your program? Is it ending homelessness for the vast majority of people? For those who do return to homelessness, do you have systems in place to identify who they are and to try again, perhaps in different ways, to reconnect them to housing quickly?
The Alliance has issued a thorough Rapid Re-Housing Performance Evaluation and Improvement Toolkit with strategies for how to track and calculate each of these data points and some benchmarks to aim for to demonstrate effectiveness. Learning how to track this information and improving the data literacy of your organization to appropriately respond to it can be tricky and time-consuming. Start anyway! Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Use what you have.
- HMIS data you are already collecting and entering can be a fantastic way to calculate much of this information.
- Do not underestimate the power of spending a few hours with an Excel spreadsheet to make complicated mathematical calculations easy and automatic!
- Understand the limitations of the data you have and the missing pieces that may be important for a full understanding of its meaning, but look at it anyway.
Finally, let’s not forget that this work is still primarily about connecting with people, meeting them where they are at, and helping them move forward with their lives independently. We already have many evidence-based best practices we can draw upon and hold ourselves accountable to in order to make sure we are doing high-quality and effective work.
Invest in your staff. Train them in Trauma Informed Care and Motivational Interviewing and Harm Reduction and Critical Time Intervention and Housing First. We already know these work and, when combined with a thorough understanding of program- and community-level data, we can demonstrate the impact rapid re-housing is having on the lives of people experiencing homelessness and hold ourselves accountable to doing even better, helping more people more effectively, and ultimately ending homelessness!