Data and Collective Impact During COVID-19: What We’ve Learned

IGH launched our Community of Impact (CoI) to connect leaders and practitioners to a collaborative and dynamic global network of knowledge of what works in ending homelessness. COVID-19 has represented an enormous challenge as the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations especially people experiencing homelessness. In our first Community of Impact Webinar, we were honored to have three speakers who discussed how data and coordinated responses allowed their communities to adopt quickly and effectively to COVID-19 in order to protect and house people experiencing homelessness. The three speakers were:

  • Jeremy Swain, UK Advisor for the United Kingdom Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
  • Dr. Surashree Shome, Senior Manager at Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives
  • Molly Seeley, Special Projects Manager for the Institute of Global Homelessness

The video of the webinar can be found here. From Great Britain to Bengaluru, India, the speakers’ presentations had common themes in their presentations:

  • Strong leadership with multi-sector coordination including the formation of taskforces resulted in improved communication, collaborative action, and led to better outcomes, and 
  • disaggregated data allowed leaders to better understand the scope of the impact and design new initiatives that are more inclusive and better targeted to specific populations.

Below are key takeaways from each of the speakers.

Building a multi-sector COVID-19 response to achieve better outcomes

With sheltering at home being the first line of defense during COVID-19, robust strategies were needed to protect and house rough sleepers. Our first speaker, Jeremy Swain, discussed Great Britain’s  ‘Everybody In’ initiative, where they temporarily housed 15,000 people, 95 percent of the homelessness population, in self-contained accommodation including hotels. This initiative was accomplished through leveraging extensive existing data on street homelessness and a coordinated, multi-sector approach. Joint efforts between the homelessness and healthcare sector were key to providing support services. The healthcare sector was very engaged in collecting detailed health data to improve current and post-pandemic support, which was crucial when people left temporary accommodation they had a specific health outcome and package of support, which would not have happened before COVID-19.

“We can bring together different systems to get outcomes around health that we didn’t manage to achieve before.”

Data was also important to understand the movement and migration of people with no recourse to public funds as more than one-third of people experiencing homelessness in London are Central and Eastern European immigrants. Looking ahead, with inclusive data and housing-led strategies, the UK government is working to secure funding and space for post-pandemic accommodation to ensure that nobody returns to the streets.

Using data to design more impactful programs in Bengaluru, India

Dr. Surashree Shome discussed Bengaluru’s COVID-19 response as the pandemic had a large impact on homeless and migrant populations across India with over 27,000 temporary shelters opened.. In Bengaluru, at first the city’s 9 permanent shelters were utilized and then an additional one hundred temporary shelters were opened across the city to meet the increased demand. Dr. Shome and her colleagues at APPI launched a study from ten shelters — five permanent and five temporary, to better understand the demographics of the people utilizing the shelters. The objectives of the study were to help develop a more effective strategy to deliver support and to advance policy advocacy for addressing homelessness.

“Understanding the profile will help us design programs and also advocate policies for them because these are the people that are accessing shelters.”

Collecting disaggregated data by age and sex showed the need for additional shelters for women and the elderly. The study found that only 7 percent of the shelter residents were women, with many women afraid to enter shelters due to security concerns. With 82 percent of the residents above the age of 60 years old, the study showed the need for geriatric care services and exclusive spaces within shelters to protect the most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. The data also revealed the large impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrant and shelter populations, about 80 percent of the shelter residents were working before the pandemic and 58 percent of the residents said they are unable to buy masks and sanitizer. Shelter residents also had difficulty accessing government benefits during the pandemic with only 62 percent having the required aadhar government ID-card. APPI and partners are using the study data from the government to create recommendations on more targeted and impactful programs.

Surveying cities to better understand COVID-19 responses

In surveying 22 cities on their homelessness sector interventions to COVID-19, Molly Seeley found that there was a wide spectrum of system responses.  Some cities reduced programs while restricting access and increasing criminalization, other cities added sanitation and protective protocols to normal services, and there were also cities that completely transitioned their systems to move the majority of rough sleepers into self-contained accommodation. For these housing-led responses, clear leadership was a common thread with many cities creating task forces between government, health, and homeless organizations. 

 “One of the really key pieces is that for systems who shifted to looking at root cause rather than mitigation, there was very clear leadership that was coordinated between city officials and homelessness experts.” 

Seeley’s research also showed that lack of resources prevented some cities from meaningful adaptations, but larger investments do not necessarily steer cities toward overhauling their system responses to homelessness.  Seeley’s research found that previous attitudes around homelessness shaped COVID-19 responses more than the availability of new resources/amount of funding. In cities that adopted COVID-19 housing-led responses, this had already been part of the city’s homeless response, or was being discussed prior to COVID-19.