The homelessness study we wish didn’t happen, and the presentations we love to do

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Two major events occur this week at Wilder Research.

One event: Our statewide homelessness survey. As part of our triennial study of Homelessness in Minnesota, we undertake a comprehensive effort to talk with about 5,000 homeless people in Minnesota. We don’t merely count people and tally their social characteristics, such as their age, education, and race. We learn more deeply about homeless individuals and families through personal interviews which enable us to understand their past living conditions, their health, their employment experiences and their future employ-ability, along with characteristics of their families and social networks. More than 1,000 volunteers assist with this effort, conducting interviews at more than 300 sites.

We wish we didn’t need to carry out this research, despite the great pride we take in the fact that we can effectively accomplish something of its size and complexity. The Wilder Research Homelessness Study has earned national recognition as an outstanding method for understanding homelessness and for influencing policies and programs related to the homeless. Nonetheless, the very need for the research indicates that homelessness remains a significant issue of concern in Minnesota. Solutions to that issue require collaborative efforts among different groups in the community, using sound information.

Many years ago, when we began this study, well-intentioned people from a variety of organizations – nonprofit, government, foundations, business, advocacy groups, faith-based, etc. – sought to help the homeless. However, they lacked an effective platform for building joint strategies and for assessing their progress. As often occurs in community initiatives, disagreements arose back in those days about the numbers and needs of homeless people. In contrast, now, through this study, and the related efforts of our colleagues in other organizations, we can respond not only compassionately, but also more knowledgeably, to the needs of homeless people. We can also build policies and programs with greater likelihood of effectiveness.

So, hopefully, the need for a statewide study of homelessness will diminish and eventually disappear, at some time in the future…..

(FYI: Craig Helmstetter of Wilder Research will host a live Twitter conference about the Homelessness Study at noon Central Time on Thursday, the 25th. Tweet your questions to @FollowMHP; use hashtag #HinMN to follow the conversation.) 

The second event this week: The national meeting of the American Evaluation Association, which takes place at the Convention Center in Minneapolis. Many research staff from Wilder Research will participate. We plan to learn from our national colleagues as well as share what we know.

Seventeen of our Wilder Research staff appear on the program – focusing on topics such as improving the educational achievement of children, evaluating community initiatives, improving mental health services for children and adults (including different cultural communities), building evaluation capacity in an organization that educates the public and preserves understanding of our past (the Minnesota Historical Society), promoting child safety, collaborating as a community and/or as a network of organizations to use data effectively to improve people’s lives, using data to understand the impact of major development effort (the Twin Cities Central Corridor project), how foundations use research of the type that we provide at Wilder Research, and more!

Through research such as the Homelessness Study, and through presentations to local and national audiences, we join arms with others who seek to make the world a better place for all individuals, families, and communities. We hope to work with you on this!