In the work to end youth homelessness, we all agree: young people need stable housing, permanent connections, education and/or employment, and an overall sense of well-being to succeed and thrive—and to make sure they never experience homelessness again. Indeed, to receive federal funding through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, community-based grantees must measure and report on outcomes in these core areas. To date, however, there has been limited federal guidance on how this should be done. What to measure—and how to measure it—remains a glaring gap.
MANY was created to respond to the needs of providers working to end youth homelessness. Over the last three years, we have fielded hundreds of questions from communities and funders looking to define outcome measurements to strengthen local responses to prevent and end youth homelessness and to better understand the impact of their programs.
Our most frequently asked questions illustrate a number of recurring issues:
Reporting requirements vary across funders—and with limited guidance on how and what they should be tracking, providers struggle to identify consistent performance measures
Lack of guidance from funders has resulted in the use of vastly inconsistent measures across service providers, even within the same agencies, making it difficult to report on both client-level and program-level outcomes
Intake assessments are not standardized, which leads to inconsistent outcomes
Measures that are used tend to focus on program exits and rarely include outcome areas beyond housing status at a specific point in time
Lack of a coordinated approach to collecting and reporting outcome data offers fragmented results, which serve as a barrier to service providers and policy makers who try to make decisions based on this information.
To address this lack of a coordinated approach, MANY and Chapin Hall have partnered with federal agencies, researchers, practitioners, and philanthropists to lead a multi-phase effort to produce common, reliable, and valid outcome measures that can be consistently applied across the array of youth-serving programs. Through an extensive literature review, as well as a series of expert consultations and surveys with youth and other key stakeholders, we will generate a series of proposed indicators under each of the four core outcome areas, as well as indicators that could be universally collected to strengthen the evidence base regarding the effectiveness of different interventions.
Implications for the Field
Through this project, communities will have access to a set of indicators that will facilitate consistent data collection related to core outcomes for youth experiencing homelessness across programs, regardless of their funding source. And federal agencies will have recommendations to more closely align reporting requirements and expectations. Through this inclusive, large-scale effort, we expect to see the following impacts nationally:
Consistent measures, providing the ability to cross-learn within communities and across programs nationally
Common expectations across multiple funders, fostering the use of valid and reliable measures
Measures to support an effective mix between services and supports, and increasing the focus on tracking performance against core outcomes areas
Actionable data to shape recommendations for policy and practice improvements
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