Behind the Scenes: Why Quality Data Matters

Every day, the Anchor Community Initiative is working towards a singular goal – preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness in four communities by the end of 2022. In our Behind the Scenes series, we give you a sneak peek into the Anchor Communities’ work. Today, our Data Manger, Liz, takes us into the world of quality data.

From the moment we launched the Anchor Community Initiative, we’ve known that preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness is a big job. Each of the Anchor Communities is committed to using a tried and true model, Community Solutions’ Built for Zero, to make it across the finish line.

Communities around the country have ended veteran and chronic homelessness by following the Built for Zero model, and it all starts with achieving quality, real-time data. The reason is simple: to quickly house and support youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, communities need to know how many young people are experiencing homelessness, who they are and what their needs are. Only once communities have access to this real-time information can they truly measure the effectiveness of their reduction strategies and know whether these strategies are reducing disproportionality for populations overrepresented in the data.

To achieve quality, real-time data, communities create a By-Name List – essentially a list of all unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness in the community. The data in a quality By-Name List is:

  • Full coverage. The By-Name List includes ALL unaccompanied youth and young adults between the ages of 12-24 experiencing homelessness, including those who are unsheltered, in time-limited housing and doubled-up/couch surfing. For this to be true, the community must have a documented outreach strategy that covers 100% of their geography and effective data-sharing protocols with all agencies and programs in the community.
  • Reliable. The number of unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness fluctuates as young people enter and exit the system. Reliable data balances like a checkbook – the community’s actively homeless number accurately captures any entry to or exit from the system.
  • Regularly updated. A By-Name List should allow communities to accurately report the number of unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness at any given time. The By-Name List should be updated monthly at a minimum to truly provide real-time information.
  • Person-level. A By-Name List not only provides the number of unaccompanied youth and young adults, it includes a name or unique identifier for every person on the list. Each row of the list is an actual youth or young adult experiencing homelessness, including information like the person’s name, demographics, history and housing needs. This person-level data ensures that no youth or young adults fall through the cracks since communities can follow young people through the system.

While quality, real-time data may sound like a very technical concept at first, most of us have experience looking at it to make decisions in our daily lives. For example, when we make financial decisions, we may look at bank statements that show every time money moves in or out of our account. We wouldn’t look at a year-old bank statement to make a decision because it would not be an accurate portrayal of our current financial situation. In the same way, data about youth and young adult homelessness changes over time, so we cannot rely on static, yearly estimates to make decisions about how to best serve young people. Instead, we need data that portrays a full picture of the current situation at any given time.

We owe it to our young people to know the REAL number of unaccompanied youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness at any given moment. Once communities achieve quality, real-time data, they can advocate for appropriate levels of prevention, diversion and long-term housing resources to build and sustain a “Yes to Yes” system that is ready to respond anytime a young person needs help.

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