When a community starts wondering what data to collect and look at when measuring progress to end homelessness, it is easy to generate a number of pieces of data that may be interesting to look at. Before you know it, there are over a hundred fields...the proverbial elephant being a horse drawn by committee. And what happens? The data does not get captured. Or it is inconsistently captured. Or there are time delays in data entry. Overall - a bunch of crap.
So if you want to simplify this - the Brown M&Ms if you will - focus on measuring three things really well.
1. How long are people staying homeless?
This is not how long people have been homeless and using YOUR services. This is not how long people are homeless from the time you connect them to a housing program until the date they move in. This is a measure of their entire homeless episode.
Once you get this data of high quality, then you can start to look at other factors such as whether household composition, age, gender, race, acuity level, place of receiving services, etc seems to be influencing whether people are having shorter or longer experiences of homelessness.
2. How many people have a positive destination out of homelessness?
What this really means is how many people moved into housing (with or without your help) or reunited to a safe and appropriate housing situation with a relative. Start by looking at the number of people. Once you have that data of high quality, look at the number of households (a family unit has more than one person). Then, when the data on the number of people and the data on the number of households is of good quality, you can choose to dig deeper and look at things like the size of the household, the composition of the household, demographics, acuity level, regional or neighbourhood analysis of where people are moving, which landlords or property management firms people are most likely to be housed through, etc. You could also look at what percentage of all people that were experiencing homeless within a prescribed period of time found a positive destination.
3. Of all those that had a positive destination out of homelessness, how many came back into homelessness?
You need to know the data from point 2 above in order to figure out the answer to this important data point. You want to know which people that had a positive housing destination touch the homeless service delivery system again, either through shelters or street outreach. Then you can go back to point 1 and look at how long people are homeless if they come back into homelessness. This would help you understand whether or not people are being rapidly re-stabilized into housing if they lose housing. You can also dig deeper to understand whether things like acuity level, neighbourhood they move into, composition of household, demographics, specific landlords, who the support provider was, etc. seem to be a more influencing factor in your community of when people return to homelessness.