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August 23, 2022

Case study: Hull City Council

Rob Anderson

Using evidence and data to tackle repeat homelessness

Hull City Council (HCC), like many councils, faces a “revolving door” problem - many of the people who come to them at risk of homelessness have already been through council homelessness services before. Young people in particular are often stuck in a cycle of temporary and transitional housing in which they can feel lost and unsupported.

The team at Hull City Council have been aware of this issue for a long time, but as with many services, there wasn’t the time to focus on really understanding what was going on and how they could stop it. In resource-constrained local authority settings, teams too often find themselves dealing with fire-fighting and tackling urgent priorities. 

At the same time, like many local authorities, Hull City Council collects large amounts of data on this issue as well as housing and homelessness more widely. In our work with local authorities, we’ve found that local authorities often have lots of data, but aren’t able to dive into it and create insights that help their work. Monitoring is often very comprehensive and there is vast potential to do more with the data gathered by teams across the country. But in practice, the data is rarely used to its full potential. 

The issue of people experiencing recurring homelessness and housing issues is a good example of how more efficient use of data can make a big difference. For example, while Hull knew there was an issue around repeat homelessness and despite there being lots of data in the system, they didn’t know whether particular groups were more likely to experience this and thus how they might target their efforts to break the cycle of repeat homelessness.

A mindset change was needed - a shift in how the teams looked at their data, which would help them to identify where they could best channel their resources. Joining the Centre for Homelessness Impact’s Accelerator programme was, for Hull, a chance to learn how to do just that. Louise Gilpin, Housing Project Officer at HCC, reflected that “until you step back and start thinking about those questions, you wouldn't know it was possible to figure out that kind of detail. We weren’t asking the right questions”. 

Step 1- using data to focus on the right problem

Through the Accelerator in 2021, Hull took on a six-month structured learning journey in a supportive environment. It turned out that Hull knew more about the repeat homeless cohort than they first thought. Their data showed that 18-26 year olds made up a quarter of all those who find themselves experiencing homelessness again and make at least two subsequent housing options attendances. The team decided to focus on this cohort and designed a new approach, seeking a 90% success rate on service users’ second call for service.

What was vital here was that Louise had strong buy-in from above: “We’re quite lucky in Hull that from my manager right up to our director, most people are fully on board with suggestions for innovation.” 

Step 2 - Now we have the problem, what solution should we try?

Once they found their focus, Hull was looking for interventions that would be both high-impact and also feasible to implement: “It was easy to initially start thinking, for example, ‘let’s scrap all of our hostels’ - but we quickly realised that was not feasible in any way. This was about looking at what we could actually implement quickly.” 

It turned out, as is often the case, that even a small operational tweak could make a big difference. Siloed information technology systems at Hull meant that service delivery teams couldn’t communicate very easily between themselves, making it difficult to access information about repeat homeless presentations and making support for people less effective. By simply introducing a trigger to flag a case for special attention when a person presents as homeless for a second time, Hull created a simple way for all teams to immediately be aware of a repeat case. For Louise, “that’s a big win”.

Once this cross-team communication solution was found, the team evaluated several different ideas to improve service delivery further for the repeat homeless. They came up with a proposed solution: to create a holistic approach and service navigation offer for everyone presenting for the second time. Here, the assessment of impact versus feasibility was crucial to Hull identifying areas where they had leverage to make change within the scope of their capacity. 

The next stage in Hull’s journey was to take a case management approach which connects more people and brings focused support to a young person presenting as homeless for the second time. Drawing on the  ‘Critical Time Intervention’ case management approach, the approach brings together Youth and Housing Options teams to work with the young person on the options open to them. This is an exciting and well-evidenced approach to case management that channels co-design and provides holistic support for the service user that could be transformative.

Step 3 - Think bigger and create mindset change around evidence and data

Louise is now the trailblazer for using evidence and data effectively within Hull, and has continued to work with CHI as one of our Evidence Champions.

She explains that the team now knows much more about what they need to be collecting and how useful that data can be, so they can build those requests for information into contracts and commissioning calls. “Because we have done all this, we are much more evidence-led and I can fly the flag for evidence. I’m getting a reputation for this evidence-based approach,” she says. 

For local authorities, and many others working in policy or strategy roles, data and evidence have long been used in one way. A lot of data is collected, but it is often siloed between departments and not used to focus in on understanding the problem at hand and framing potential solutions. Applying new tools and evidence-based approaches (like CTIs) is often an afterthought rather than a logical next step to understanding the problem. 

Step 4 - Learning from Hull and others like them

With more and more local authorities like Hull taking this more data and evidence-led approach, we believe that big changes and better outcomes are possible in homelessness over the next few years. To start this journey, local authorities can:

  1. Join our What Works Community network and sign up to our newsletter to learn about the latest in evidence and data-led approaches to homelessness.
  2. Adopt a clear definition of how you are going to end homelessness in your local area. You can use our Ending Homelessness Framework to help you do this. We’re still working on a page for this exciting project, so get in touch with us via email hello@homelessnessimpact.org to learn more. You can read about some of this work here.
  3. Review our Evidence Tools to learn about evidence-based interventions that might be effective in your area.
* We would like to thank Telescope for helping with this case study. Telescope's work is based on a strong belief that empathy can power meaningful change, and that sharing insights and evidence from the frontline is vital to improve outcomes in the public sector. You can read a more detailed account of Hull's journey on Telescope's website.
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