How Can Data Stop Homelessness Before It Starts?

By Andrea Danes    November 17, 2022

One thing I’ve always appreciated about my job is that I get to work with colleagues and clients all over the world. I’m sure no one needs me to explain why that’s so rewarding—and I know many readers of this blog post probably feel the same way, notwithstanding the hurdles COVID-19 has unrelentingly placed in our path. There’s always been a deeply disturbing aspect of this otherwise enjoyable part of my job though; almost everywhere we work, I know there are men, women, and children still living in the streets despite the resources available through social programs.

Sometimes they seem few and far between, and sometimes it feels like they’re everywhere. But I always think the same things, irrespective of the numbers. “How can we help these people?” and “Why do we allow this to happen?” Most recently, drawing on an article just published by EY, I’m adding a third question that I believe is both better on the merits and more challenging.

“How can we keep this from occurring in the first place?”

That’s obviously a far easier question to ask than answer, and I’m certain there are people who assume there are no realistic, affordable, sustainable solutions. But the new EY article, How can data stop homelessness before it starts?, strongly suggests otherwise. Specifically, it outlines a transformative approach to how developed and developing countries could better use existing data and resources—along with predictive modeling and analytics—to make meaningful advances toward preventing, rather than just responding to, the problem.

Moving Upstream is Key

To be sure, many countries have instituted programs to address homelessness, but few are focused on the problem at the root causes.

Experts estimate 150 million people worldwide are homeless, with an additional 1.6 billion living in inadequate housing and 15 million forcibly evicted yearly.

It’s important to recognize that governments and human services agencies must simultaneously address the many social determinants that contribute to homelessness: poverty and unemployment; family breakdowns; inadequate help for treating mental illness, alcoholism, or substance abuse; and, alas, many more. Those aren’t competing needs, however; rather, providing adequate housing is an essential contributor to successfully addressing them.

A common denominator for dealing with all those challenges, pointedly including homelessness, is the huge amount of data routinely amassed by governments, agencies, NGOs, and related entities, covering a broad spectrum of siloed medical and social services. The good news is that many countries are engaged in interoperability and data-sharing projects, mostly focused on healthcare. Now it’s time for those efforts to prioritize homelessness too because providing shelter is healthcare.

A Case Study: Reducing Homelessness by 40 Percent

When homelessness in Maidstone, England, soared by 58 percent over five years, the Borough Council decided to shift from crisis response to early intervention and prevention. Working with EY and a technology partner, Xantura, the council created and implemented a tool called OneView that enabled the council to tackle its challenges with an innovative data-driven, person-centered approach.

OneView’s predictive analytic and natural language generation capabilities enabled agencies to aggregate their data to identify residents at risk of homelessness and then intervene before they were on the street. In the initial year, almost 100 households were kept from becoming homeless, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The results were big: Homelessness fell by 40 percent, £2.5 million was saved, and administrative tasks nosedived, among other benefits.

While this initiative showed what’s possible, one size obviously will not fit all. Governments will need to address numerous challenges—some specific to their individual circumstances and others broadly faced by many jurisdictions.

Introducing the Smart Safety Net

EY’s “Smart Safety Net” is designed not only to address homelessness but also to help shape a bold new future for social care. Doing so will require broad, fundamental organizational changes and better collaboration, data integration, and care coordination, including:

  • A system-wide approach to addressing the needs of individuals and families, including pooled funding that supports coordination
  • Human-centered design that integrates People with Lived Expertise into the creation and implementation of policies, systems, and services
  • Data-driven policy, services, workflows, automation, and security to improve processes, save money, and facilitate real-time decision-making
  • Frontline case workers who are supported and empowered to focus on their core purpose—improving people’s lives
  • Outcomes-based commissioning of services, measured against a holistic well-being framework, with governments acting as system stewards and service integrators

I’ll close with another question: Is all this simply too aspirational? EY’s answer is “absolutely not.” Now that we’ve seen what’s possible, governments need to take the difficult, complex steps necessary to achieve a basic goal of every society: ensuring that everyone has a safe, respectable place to live.

Learn more in our article on homelessness.

About the Author

Andrea Danes

Global Human Services Leader

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