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State of Connecticut

Developing a smarter tool to support families experiencing homelessness

Summary

As part of a state-wide effort to better understand and support vulnerable populations experiencing homelessness in Connecticut, we were asked to gather specific research insights around families with young children and explore opportunities to address their complex challenges. In response, we conducted in-depth research and identified a targeted technical solution to help improve a critical tool that's used to connect families with housing solutions.

A social worker holding a device and discussing housing options with a family.

The challenge

In July 2019, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced a multi-agency effort to find ways to better support vulnerable populations facing or experiencing homelessness in the state.

"This task force will take a data-driven approach to seek a better understanding of this population, and to pilot better ways to make sure we can quickly meet all of a household's critical needs, stabilizing them more quickly, and achieving better outcomes for these Connecticut residents as well as for our publicly funded systems."

Lisa Tepper Bates, Co-chair of the Governor's Task Force

We were asked to support this effort by focusing on families with young children from birth to age five, in collaboration with Governor Lamont's Task Force, the Office of Early Childhood (OEC), and the Department of Housing.

The solution

Better understanding the needs and challenges families face in seeking state services was the first step in our work to scope out potential solutions.

We conducted in-depth research that included interviews with government agencies, community partners, and families with young children experiencing homelessness.

Through this research, we found that infants are the most likely age group to experience homelessness. Yet, families with young children experiencing homelessness are often underrepresented in official counts due to a variety of reasons including not being officially counted as homeless while living with other people, having children who are too young to be tracked in the public school system, and not interfacing with support services that might identify homelessness. Significantly, a lack of steady and safe child care also makes it difficult, and perhaps impossible, for families experiencing homelessness to seek employment or access support services.

Above all, agencies and programs working with families often don't have tools or data systems needed to collaborate or collect data on the complex, interrelated challenges facing these families, making it difficult for state agencies to choose interventions that best meet their needs.

As a result of what we learned, we identified an opportunity to improve the usefuless and usability of a tool called the family by-name list. This tool is used by groups of providers that coordinate efforts to end homelessness in communities across Connecticut. These groups are known as Coordinated Access Networks (CANs). CANs rely on the family by-name list to identify vulnerable families to be prioritized for housing. Improving the family by-name list would make it easier for CANs to refer families to housing and other support services, and would also streamline data collection and analysis for program planning.

To show how these improvements could be made, we delivered detailed recommendations as part of our research report, as well as design and technical prototypes.

The results

  • Conducted three months of research and discovery that produced a better understanding of the complex needs of families experiencing homelessness
  • Using SQL, developed and delivered a prototype of an improved family by-name list to improve usefulness and usability
  • Created a data dictionary to accompany the prototype family by-name list to help providers understand and align data fields
  • Provided design prototypes for future user interfaces focused on better serving families
  • Provided guidance for future family by-name list fields and data to be developed based on our research, including a Family Data Handbook