Hawaii Community Foundation launched the HousingASAP working group to help homeless service providers increase statewide collaboration and transition to a “housing first” approach. Eight nonprofits participated in the four-year project.
These organizations were focused on providing frontline homeless services and responding to the most visible needs in the homeless community. Yet they recognized that homelessness is a symptom of other societal and life challenges encountered by these families. There were many unanswered questions that could help them better serve the community.
Why was the homeless family population continuing to grow even as they were placing more and more families into housing?
What were the most common causes of homelessness among the families they served?
What supports could keep families housed sustainably once they were placed into a home?
What data could help advise providers' decision making?
Hawaii Community Foundation decided to bring in an outside contractor to analyze and track existing data and to improve data-gathering systems and skills among the frontline staff. They selected SMS Hawai’i because of the firm’s extensive expertise in data, research, and strategic planning. SMS also had a history of working with Hawai'i housing and socioeconomic studies, which meant the firm had a solid background in understanding the larger context of the issue.
The State of Hawai’i and nonprofit organizations had gathered information on homelessness and homeless services for years. These data were tracked in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) but were not being utilized to their potential. SMS proposed improving data collection systems and analyzing the HMIS data to achieve actionable insights.
SMS team members dove into the HMIS database and identified and tracked key indicators. They presented their findings at HousingASAP’s quarterly meetings and facilitated a discussion among the group members to understand and explain trends in the data.
At the same time, SMS staff identified problems with accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of data entry in the HMIS database by partner organizations' staff. SMS worked with partner organizations to streamline the data entry process and make the procedure easier for frontline workers. They provided training to homeless agencies on how to enter data completely and accurately and worked to add context to the data entry process for frontline staff by showing the value added when data was comprehensive and could be used to advise their work.
This work was so impactful that HousingASAP asked SMS to provide additional services, including strategic planning and community presentations. SMS conducted a detailed analysis of statewide homeless data and provided a first-of-its-kind functional zero projection and system flow mapping.
SMS also presented these and other key findings to the Hawai’i State Legislature in 2019.
Analyzing the functional zero projections and system flow mapping showed that even though agencies were doing well in placing homeless families into housing, the rate at which new families were losing their housing and entering homeless was upending their efforts. This insight was significant in shifting focus among HousingASAP and state agencies to homelessness prevention programs.
Additional results of the HousingASAP initiative included:
One participating organization, Catholic Charities of Hawaii, saw a 76% reduction in the number of days clients spent in shelters, with an average of 255 fewer days.
After seeing these improvements, organizations and staff were more motivated to continue the improved data collection techniques. HousingASAP disbanded at the end of the four-year project, but member agencies continue to work together and use the data-driven approaches implemented during the program. A portion of providers from the HousingASAP initiative now make up the Westside Homeless Coalition addressing homelessness specifically on the westside of O‘ahu. SMS has been contracted to support the strategic planning and data tracking for this initiative as well and remains a key member of the team in this work.
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