At A Way Home Washington, our core values include equity, youth partnership, trauma-informed practice and a data-driven culture. Our Data and Evaluation Director, Liz, writes about how data informs our work at A Way Home Washington.
“You don’t count unless you’re counted.” It’s a common refrain in the data community, and for me it gets to the root of why we need data to achieve racial and LGBTQ+ equity. Data gives us the information we need to make informed decisions and to evaluate whether our initiatives are yielding equitable outcomes.
Data is the foundation of the Anchor Community Initiative. It all starts with a question that seems simple: “How many young people are experiencing homelessness in your community?” But we hear from our communities that answering this question is much more complex than it seems. It requires developing new processes to collect and analyze data, updating data infrastructure and building partnerships and protocols across all public systems of care. The first stage of the Anchor Community Initiative is about laying down the groundwork to answer this question in real time.
But the data work doesn’t stop there. It’s not enough to know how many young people are experiencing homelessness. We also need to know their race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity so we can address any disparities in their experiences. Are young people of color experiencing homelessness at higher rates? Are LGBQ young people returning to homelessness at higher rates? Are trans young people spending a longer time experiencing homelessness? Data will help us answer these questions and shine a light on equity issues within our system.
For this work to be effective, we need to ask critical questions of our data. Otherwise, inequities can hide behind the numbers, or a population may be entirely absent from our data set. This was the case at a national data conference I attended last year, where a Continuum of Care presented their data. I noticed that demographic data such as race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity was not included in their data dashboards. When I asked the presenter about it, she said that they had no LGBTQ+ young people showing up in their data. She concluded that the community “didn’t have any LGBTQ+ young people”.
I cannot stress enough that just because a population, or multiple populations, are not showing up in data does not mean that they don’t exist. In our coaching work with Anchor Communities, we are asking constantly asking: Is the data accurate? Is our system counting everyone? Are we collecting data in a respectful and responsive way? The answer to all of these questions needs to be “yes” because the next stage of our work will be using this data to drive towards an equitable end to youth and young adult homelessness.
I’m extremely proud of the work that Anchor Communities are doing to embed a data-driven culture centered on racial and LGBTQ+ equity. Recently, Yakima made the local decision to collect sexual orientation data at youth and young adult Coordinated Entry access points. This change is an excellent example of how starting with data can lead to community-wide culture shifts. Ultimately, these shifts will create safer and more supportive environments for all young people experiencing homelessness, and especially for young people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+.