Use Data and Evidence to Make Decisions

This is an excerpt of All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Read the full plan at usich.gov/fsp.

All In serves as a roadmap for federal action to ensure state and local communities have sufficient resources and guidance to build the effective, lasting systems required to end homelessness. While it is a federal plan, local communities can use it to collaboratively develop local and systems-level plans for preventing and ending homelessness. This plan creates an initial framework for meeting the ambitious goal of reducing overall homelessness by 25% by 2025 and sets the United States on a path to end homelessness.

This plan is built around six pillars: three foundations—equity, evidence, and collaboration—and three solutions—housing and supports, homelessness response, and prevention—all of which are required to prevent and end homelessness. Within each pillar of foundations and solutions are strategies that the federal government will pursue to facilitate increased access to housing, economic security, health, and stability. Some agency commitments, cross-government initiatives, and efforts are already underway and are highlighted throughout.

Upon release of this plan, USICH will immediately begin to develop implementation plans that will identify specific actions, milestones, and metrics for operationalizing the strategies in close partnership with its member agencies and other stakeholders representing a broad range of groups and perspectives, including people with lived experience. For more on this, please view the Framework for Implementation.

Strategies to Use Data and Evidence to Make Decisions

This plan is driven by evidence from a growing body of research, data, and perspectives of people who have experienced homelessness—and a commitment to continue to rely on data and these critical perspectives. As the evidence and our understanding of what works evolves, so will our plan. By shifting to evidence-based practices for streamlining connections to housing and ensuring wraparound services, national homelessness declined by 14% between 2010 and 2017.

Strategy 1: Strengthen the federal government’s capacity to use data and evidence to inform federal policy and funding.

Collection, analysis, and reporting of quality, timely qualitative and quantitative data is essential for targeting interventions, tracking results, making strategic decisions, and allocating resources at the federal, state, and local levels. The federal government must continue efforts already underway and strengthen its capacity to responsibly integrate data across systems to better understand the scope and dynamics of homelessness and to break down silos between systems and to promulgate the recommendations put forth by the Equitable Data Working Group.

To accomplish this strategy, USICH and relevant member agencies will:

  • Catalyze existing federal infrastructure to leverage underused qualitative and quantitative data sources that could be utilized to better understand people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness to inform federal policy and funding decisions.
  • Collaborate to strengthen existing and identify new ways to formally share and use data across all partner agencies, particularly HUD, DOJ, SSA, DOL, Education, HHS, USDA, and VA.*
  • Gather input from a broad range of experts to ensure that federal data-sharing and data-use strategies do not perpetuate inequities, increase administrative burdens, compromise personal information, or reduce trust.
  • Provide guidance and messaging about how national data can be used to inform state and local processes and decision-making.
  • Create a federal dashboard to track and report relevant data from across various federal data sources with the goal of making data available sooner and increasing capacity for utilizing data to inform actions taken in relation to this plan.
  • Promote federal actions to create publicly available data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, age, or other key demographic variables while being intentional about when it is collected and shared while protecting privacy.

Strategy 2: Strengthen the capacity of state and local governments, territories, tribes, Native-serving organizations operating off tribal land, and nonprofits to collect, report, and use data.

In recent years, communities have increasingly begun to disaggregate data by race and ethnicity, gender, household, and other important dimensions. As a result, it is possible to understand specific trends and needs, and to make strategic decisions about how to use resources equitably. But there is a continued need for increased coordination across the federal government to streamline processes that reduce the burdens that data collection and reporting place on state, local, and nonprofit organizations as well as on the people experiencing homelessness whose information is being collected.

To accomplish this strategy, USICH and relevant member agencies will:

  • Increase state and local use of Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) and identify ways to expand coverage, especially of street outreach efforts, to better track unsheltered homelessness and by expanding coverage by non-traditional partners through incentives and/or training and technical assistance.
  • Expand community capacity to integrate HMIS data with other federal data sources (i.e., VA HOMES data) as well as state and local administrative data (i.e., Medicaid, corrections, child welfare) to inform planning and decision-making. Support this by developing standards to permit data interoperability between data systems while protecting the confidentiality of all individuals.
  • Increase state and local capacity to ensure accurate counts of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, especially unaccompanied minors, youth and young adults, and families, by leveraging existing federal resources, such as AmeriCorps volunteers and members. • Increase state and local capacity to collect additional data related to housing and homelessness status.
  • Ensure that increased use of HMIS and integration of HMIS data with other data sources does not result in the exclusion of victim service providers from strategic decisions about how to use resources equitably, considering that they are prohibited from entering client-level data into HMIS and must use comparable databases instead.**
  • Issue guidance on the creation of cooperative agreements and memoranda of understanding and on perceived legal barriers associated with sharing data.
  • Coordinate and provide federal guidance, technical assistance, and training for state and local governments, territories, tribes, Native-serving organizations operating off tribal land, homeless service organizations, and local school districts on data collection and utilization methodologies that are culturally appropriate, and trauma informed. Build capacity for robust equity assessment of compounded experiences and overlapping identities.
  • Provide guidance and other resources to support the co-creation, implementation, and analysis of qualitative data with communities at the federal and community levels.
  • In consultation with Tribal Nations and Native-serving organizations operating off tribal land, identify existing data sources to examine aggregate quantitative and qualitative data on tribal homelessness and housing instability both on and off reservations. Additionally, explore ways to allow for tribal identification within HMIS.
  • Engage in efforts to identify more effective ways of collecting data on subpopulations that are historically undercounted, including older adults; people with disabilities; LGBTQI+ people; homeless youth; Latinos; people with HIV; and individuals and families residing in rural areas or tribal lands.

Strategy 3: Create opportunities for innovation and research to build and disseminate evidence for what works.

Federal funding requirements often hinder the ability of state and local governments, territories, tribes, Native-serving organizations operating off tribal land, nonprofits, CoC leaders, and homeless service providers to be flexible and innovative. To promote progress at all levels of government and encourage local adaptation and innovation, federal agencies must allow their funds to be used more flexibly.

To accomplish this strategy, USICH and relevant member agencies will:

  • Develop a federal homelessness research agenda in collaboration with federal agencies, academic researchers, people with lived experience, and innovative programs to conduct, compile, and disseminate research on best practices, the effectiveness of various interventions, and metrics to measure outcomes.
  • Identify promising population-specific interventions and mobilize public-private partnerships to fund effectiveness research.
  • Identify mechanisms to provide more flexibility, speed up the approval for, and reduce administrative burdens sometimes associated with waivers.
  • Review all COVID-19 flexibilities effectiveness—including the extent to which they increased equity—and determine the feasibility of extending or making them permanent, based on input from recipients of federal funding.
  • Engage stakeholders, including people with lived experience, to better understand which federal requirements are most inhibiting to local responses to homelessness and share the findings with federal agency partners to develop strategies to foster innovation.
  • Identify and promote lessons learned through successful programs, such as HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program, and HUD’s Family Unification Program (FUP).
  • Expand efforts to evaluate local and state innovative approaches as well as how tribes are addressing tribal-specific needs such as overcrowding.
Click to Enlarge Graphic.

 

This is an excerpt of All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Read the full plan at usich.gov/fsp.

*Data can be shared with FEMA, for instance, when a presidential declared disaster or emergency has been issued in an area with existing high rates of homelessness.
**Victim services providers that are recipients or subrecipients under HUD’s Continuum of Care and Emergency Solutions Grant programs are required to collect client-level data consistent with Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) data collection requirements.