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City dashboard combines homelessness and housing affordability data

by Sarah Wray, Editor, Cities Today

The city of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada has launched a new data dashboard that will be used to inform efforts to meet housing needs and reduce homelessness.

Hamilton’s Housing and Homelessness Dashboard consolidates data about the state of homelessness and access to affordable housing.

While several cities share homelessness data, Hamilton’s initiative aims to create a more detailed picture by providing more comprehensive information in one place.

It includes average market rent; active households on the Access to Housing waitlist and the number that have been housed; inflow and outflow to homelessness; shelter occupancy and bed capacity; the number of individuals experiencing homelessness for less than six months and more than six months; and the number of individuals housed through city-funded homelessness programmes.

The information complements existing local efforts to report on the demographic profile of those experiencing homelessness, such as the Point in Time Connection survey.

Snapshot of Hamilton’s Housing and Homelessness Dashboard from May 2022. Image credit: Cities Today

Data-informed decisions

Nadia Zelisko, Manager of Homelessness Policy and Programs at the City of Hamilton, told Cities Today: “This data helps to inform the context of our work through the Housing Services Division by bringing core metrics together in one accessible place. This allows us to see the data related to pressures on affordable housing alongside data on the number of people experiencing homelessness, accessing shelters, and exiting homelessness in our community.

“This helps to inform programmes and investments to respond to the core challenges community members face in accessing and retaining suitable housing.”

Zelisko said examples of areas where the new dashboard could help include decisions around the size and scale of shelter services, and the nature of support for homeless residents. It will also inform action to “ensure a continuum of supports” to prevent homelessness and stabilise housing for those with core housing needs.

In March 2022, 1,596 people were actively experiencing homelessness in Hamilton, having used the shelter system at least once in the three months prior. There were 248 people newly experiencing homelessness and 226 exited the homeless-serving system.

Public dashboard

Shelter occupancy and capacity data will be updated monthly, and all other homelessness data will be updated quarterly.

“Monthly data will be included, however it is updated quarterly to accommodate the lag in reporting and compiling the data across multiple programmes as well as to show the trends over the quarter,” said Zelisko.

She added that the public-facing nature of the dashboard is important.

“Until we reach our homelessness reduction goals, we do not see homelessness data alone as a good news story, but rather as a critical part of an open and transparent dialogue that will inform innovative, collective solutions to complex needs and gaps in our community,” Zelisko added.

“Having this data available in the dashboard makes it readily available for community members, council, staff, and partners to all have the same access to information that is important to informing a shared understanding of the state of housing and homelessness in our community as well as our ongoing response and improvement efforts as a system.”

Additional data

The city plans to add more data over time. Priorities for 2022 include expanding the scope of reporting on housing placements to include the number of individuals supported to secure housing with assistance through emergency shelters, drop-ins, and the housing-focused street outreach team.

By the end of the year, the city also plans to report on recidivism – the number of people who return to homelessness – to inform improvements to programmes that help people obtain and retain permanent housing.

“Additional metrics will be considered as both the Access to Housing programme and the Homeless Policy and Programs Team undertake changes to their database systems and reporting capabilities,” Zelisko said.

Some local homeless advocates have welcomed the dashboard as a “starting point” but highlighted potential gaps.

Vic Wojciechowska, a member of the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN), told CBC News:

“Evidence-based initiatives like this can also be code for using data and numbers to justify processes that don’t actually centre unhoused and precariously-housed community members.”

For example, data on the number of shelter spaces and occupancy doesn’t explain the reasons that people may avoid shelters, including concerns about safety and conditions.

Wojciechowska noted that the dashboard doesn’t include context such as the number of overdoses, deaths and people barred from shelters for various reasons as well as the individuals who are housed temporarily before ending up in an encampment again.

This article first appeared on Cities Today.

Image credit: Vivek Trivedi via Unsplash

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