Addressing Homelessness in Vermont: Using Data to Make a Difference

We continue to read stories across the country describing individuals experiencing homelessness and the complex behavioral health issues which often accompany those without stable permanent housing. We also hear stories of success coming out of states like Florida, which recently reported its largest homeless decrease in a one-year period. As we gather with family and friends this holiday season, it becomes the perfect time to give thanks to, champion, and support the work happening within our own communities. At Foothold Technology, we work with hundreds of agencies across the country who spend everyday working to end hunger and homelessness. It’s something we blogged about in 2015 as part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week.

Today, I’d like to spotlight two of our customers in Vermont. You might be asking yourself, “Why Vermont? It’s a tiny state!” The answer is data. As a technology vendor, we love data, and we love when our customers use it to drive their decision-making. In Vermont, we work with two organizations who utilize AWARDS to support their housing programs and improve the lives of those in their community. Vermont is ranked near the top nationally for the percentage of household income needed to afford housing. Paired with a sparse housing market, when someone does find housing in Vermont, it’s really expensive and often feels out of reach.

The Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) opened its doors on Christmas Eve 1982 to provide emergency shelter to those in need. COTS has been empowered by AWARDS since 2010 and currently provides a comprehensive range of services aimed at preventing families and individuals from falling into homelessness, supporting people without a home, and quickly transitioning people experiencing homelessness into permanent sustainable housing. Staff at COTS recently spoke to us about their use of AWARDS to support the agency’s advocacy efforts, to assess program level performance, as well as evaluate the individual performance of its staff. As an example, COTS uses data collected in AWARDS to flag and demonstrate trends which can support advocacy and education efforts. The data collected in AWARDS has provided Executive Director Rita Markley a data driven argument to advocate on the state level.

“As the largest homeless shelter provider in the state, we often serve as a bellwether for Vermont. AWARDS allows us to flag any demographic trends or shifts that might be significant for policy makers and partners throughout the state.”

Rita Markley, Executive Director, COTS

COTS uses the Service Referrals functionality in AWARDS, paired with several strategically placed FormBuilder forms, to collect program level information. This data is then used to evaluate outcomes related to COTS’ case management and housing programs. It provides the agency with information it needs to assess its efforts in helping clients maintain housing over time. As Adam Wager, Program Evaluator and Database Manager at COTS stated, “We just finished a review of our case management outcomes. Very quickly we could see what we’ve been able to achieve, how many people we connected to resources and, through reporting, a direct correlation between the time someone is spending with a case manager and the likelihood an individual will end up in permanent housing.” COTS is using this same type of approach when monitoring individual performance of case managers and supervisors. Using data and reporting, COTS can ensure everyone is being served in a way that best benefits a client and allows for conversation to probe any potential shortfalls.

Homelessness, COTS and AWARDS

Only a short distance away, Pathways Vermont has been using AWARDS since 2015 for similar purposes. Founded in 2009, Pathways Vermont was tasked with implementing the Housing First model across the state. In part, the Housing First model begins with the understanding that working with people with long histories of homelessness requires accessibility to housing as a very first, necessary step to ensure an individual’s long-term success. Lindsay Casale, Pathways Vermont’s Housing First Program Manager, shared some tips on how AWARDS is being used at her agency to drive decision making during one of our webinars. Lindsay summed up one of her key tips by stating, “with data from AWARDS, we can show funders that what we’re doing is working in a consistent way.” Grounded in data, Pathways Vermont can share real world examples of how its programs are a cost-effective strategy for ending homelessness and how Housing First, as a concept, is supporting thousands of individuals.

On behalf of the entire Foothold Technology team, I’d like to extend our thanks to all our customers working to make a difference in each of their communities. Whether it’s COTS and Pathways Vermont, who are helping more Vermonters find sustainable housing, or our customers across the country using AWARDS to streamline data entry practices, use data to improve internal processes, and provide a data driven argument when advocating for the clients they serve, we’re grateful for the opportunity to work behind the scenes to help our customers provide a voice to those they serve each and every day.