In July last year we were delighted to be invited to support the Scottish Government in delivering against the recommendations from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) with an options appraisal for a national data and monitoring system for street homelessness.
Since then we engaged with many dozens of people working to end homelessness in Scotland. We knew that co-creating a shared vision of success for the system was very important and therefore vital that any eventual options represented the user voice.
As an organisation, the Centre believes strongly that homelessness is an issue that can be solved, and that more reliable and actionable data and evidence will power society’s progress towards that end.
A clearer, data-driven picture of the issue is a critical piece in the wider puzzle of Scotland’s path towards becoming a nation free from homelessness. A new national data system could help significantly with ongoing efforts by improving our understanding of the scope of the challenge and assess progress on a daily basis. It could also enable us to connect people more effectively with the support they need. And making the data publicly available could create added incentive for local areas to keep up, creating a virtuous cycle.
Starting with the conviction that we must treat the systemic causes of homelessness, not just its individual symptoms, the Centre took a broad approach to this options appraisal. In addition to a literature review of similar systems worldwide, and regular meetings with a panel of national and international experts, we spent significant time with future users of a data collection system for homelessness in Scotland. These included front- line workers, service providers, local authority service commissioners, people with experiences of homelessness, data analysts, system administrators and volunteers. Our objective was to gain a deeper understanding of the many perspectives, challenges, needs, behaviours and motivations that any data collection system would need to address.
The system options presented in the report are deeply rooted in what we heard – and in many ways, the study is as much about identifying and framing the right questions for ourselves as it is about the possible configurations of a system. It is often said that given an hour to solve a problem, one should spend 40 minutes defining the problem and 20 minutes solving it. A significant part of this process has been to collectively figure out what questions we need this data collection to answer, what direction we want it to take us in, and what success looks like.
The big promise of the new data system extends beyond its ability to help outreach workers in the moment or track levels across local areas over time. The data should also help us to proactively design fixes to problems we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. And It should be used to assess how effective different services are at keeping people off the streets. Above all else, it should help us keep our eye on the real goal: delivering permanent and sustained exits from homelessness.
We look forward to the next stage of this process as the Scottish Government begin to test, prototype and pilot new approaches to homelessness data collection, to help us navigate our way towards the long-term goal.
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