Why Evidence Should Be Part Of The Strategy To End Homelessness

A low sun shines on a streak of a headlight beam along a road
This scene was created by affordablehousingaction.org in accordance with the use restrictions of a Creative ML OpenRAIL-M license
Measurement finally captured the speed of light, a fundamental underpinning of our Universe. Measurement will also capture the fundamental evidence we need to understand and end homelessness.

David Park’s book “The Fire In the Eye: A Historical Essay On The Nature and Meaning of Light” reviews the history of ideas, debates and thinking about what light is. In it, Park says that toward the the end of the 1600’s,

“people began to realize that it was not enough to observe and report a new phenomenon; they must measure it, for when several explanations were offered, measurement could often allow a choice between them.” (p 187)

It took a while for measurement to catch on in the physical sciences, and longer still for it to have a role in understanding complex social issues, such as homelessness. To put it in Park’s terms, homelessness is observed and reported. Multiple explanations and solutions are offered. Measurement provides a way to find out what works and what doesn’t. Measurement is key to evidence of best practices.

The Centre for Homelessness Impact (CSI) in the UK is one example of a present day effort to study homelessness systematically, and using evidence to help end homelessness.

CSI published Using Evidence to End Homelessness early in 2020. Although the book is going on three years old, it offers a wide-ranging series of articles that deal with the challenge of ending homelessness. Here are a few that this reader found interesting:

  • In one article, the authors take on a question that frequently arises: why bother do research and to compile evidence when the need is obviously so great? Several responses are offered, including cost effectiveness and efficiency. The author also discusses the moral principle of ‘do no harm.’ Simply put, without research, we can’t know whether an intervention is making things better or worse.
  • In another article, a writer who advises charities talks about the role of charities and foundations in funding and conducting research. The article includes guidelines for undertaking research that will help establish solid evidence of what works and what doesn’t. It also advocates for research that includes the voices of lived experience.
  • The leader of a front line service agency also takes up the pen. He was part of a project to communicate research results to the public. He reports that repeating facts and figures doesn’t persuade people. People also don’t take kindly to being told that what they believe about homelessness is incorrect. What did work was starting with an expression of shared values, such as “it’s important for all children to have opportunities for education.” An entrée like that opened a door to talk about hunger and homelessness, which prevent children from having the opportunity to learn.

These articles do justice to the value of measurement, which David Park credits with advancing our all-important understanding of light. Although the articles in Using Evidence to End Homelessnss are written for a UK audience, the arguments about the value of systematically building an evidence base for effective action would apply in many other countries.

This publication is available on line for anyone who wants to read it. You can obtain it from the Centre for Homelessness Impact: Using Evidence to End Homelessness