When we heard our long-time client, Crisis Response Network (CRN) in Arizona, became the first organization to reach 100% data integrity in the nationally recognized Built for Zero project, we wanted to know more.

 

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Built for Zero is a national change effort working to end Veteran and chronic homelessness. Coordinated by Community Solutions, the national effort supports participants in developing real-time data on homelessness, optimizing local housing resources, tracking progress against monthly goals, and accelerating the spread of proven strategies.

In Maricopa County alone (the area around Phoenix), there are roughly 1,000 chronically homeless individuals, as well as 350 homeless Veterans. CRN tracks each of these individuals on a by-name basis, updating each person’s status every month. Achieving accuracy across such a large population is a daunting task.

We spoke with Tyler Rosensteel, Director of HMIS at CRN, about data integrity and the success CRN has achieved, not only on the Built for Zero campaign, but across all of CRN’s reporting and advocacy efforts. He shared these five principles that any HMIS leader can profit from.

1. Share the Vision

As you walk through the CRN facility, the first thing that grabs your eye are the bevy of dashboard screens displayed throughout. Those dashboards don’t just facilitate operations, they tell an important story.

“You need to get everyone on board with the vison for this to work,” Tyler said. “This is not about compliance. This is not about data. This is about improving Systems of Care and ending homelessness.”

When Tyler says “everyone,” he means it — city leaders, agency leads, board members, outreach champions, and anyone else who influences or participates in the data collection process. CRN invites stakeholders to the facility, where all those dashboards make that vison real.

“Once people get the vision, then they see for themselves how important it is to get the data right.”

2. Deliver Results

The vision you share with your stakeholders is also a promise – that you are committed to make that vision a reality. So to get full buy-in with your community, Tyler stressed that you must deliver results. In this case, that delivery starts with technical expertise. The CRN HMIS team consists of the Director, three System Administrators, one employee dedicated to reporting and one employee focused on homeless initiatives and the implementation of data driven decisions. The team is intensely dedicated to deliver the training, support and tools needed to support nearly 750 users of ServicePoint.

“When you deliver what you promise, three things happen,” Ty said. “You build trust with everyone in the process. You build community among all the people in the process. And you build people who are committed to the vision of ending homelessness.”

3. Focus on the Essential

For the purposes of system reporting and the By Name List Process, CRN is committed to only collect HUD data elements and nothing more. “If somebody asks me to add another data point to the process, I’m going to ask why and ensure that it helps move the community towards ending homelessness.”

This focus accomplishes three things: (1) it keeps data collection as simple as possible; (2) it locks in straightforward, consistent workflows; and (3) it allows CRN to commit all of their extensive training efforts (see #4) to prepare people extremely well to run a limited set of workflows.

CRN does allow for customization in the system but it is done on a case-by-case basis and typically used for recording agency specific outcomes.

4. Train. Train. Train.

CRN supports hundreds of users at agencies spread throughout the Maricopa County and Balance of State CoCs. Turnover at these agencies is high, making it all the more difficult to ensure competent use of the software that leads to solid data collection.

That’s why CRN is intensely dedicated to provide training every way possible. Ty believes that the CRN HMIS team is composed of some of the savviest users of ServicePoint in the country, and the training modules they have created are among the most effective available anywhere.

The team creates numerous web videos. They travel to sites to deliver in-person instruction, and also invite people regularly to their offices throughout Arizona in Tempe, Flagstaff and Tucson. They provide regular sessions throughout the year and across the state and they are eager to provide custom training on any topic that will help their partners deliver better results.

5. Empower and Communicate

Many data problems can’t be identified behind a desk. In addition to dashboards and vigilant data practices, constant communication is also essential. By talking with homeless services staff, the CRN team found out that individuals with housing vouchers were automatically reported as housed on the By Name List, when in some cases those individuals remained in the shelter for various reasons. Anomalies like that one are not uncommon, and can only be identified by maintaining close contacts with partners in the field.

More than communicate, the CRN HMIS team works to empower the dozens of admins and advanced users at the agencies he works with, so that they can accomplish far more collectively than the HMIS team could do on their own.

To this end, they invite not just an admin from each agency to monthly meetings at CRN — they ask to have a leader from each program. This has proven to increase involvement, accountability…and results.

Conclusion

While Tyler has all the chops of a seasoned IT expert, his ability to bring people together around a vision is perhaps his most important skill. His story is an important example of the vital role the “human element” plays in acquiring the data we need to improve homeless systems and end homelessness.

All of us at Wellsky are privileged to work with CRN and thankful for all that they are accomplishing for the people who need our help the most.