Collecting better data with the community's help
At Urban, we gather and analyze data in a lot of different ways, from programmatic administrative data, survey data, to focus group interviews. But don’t think all of our work occurs in an office—researchers working on the place-based Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST) Demonstration are in the field, working with families in low-income neighborhoods and developing whole-family strategies to help them rise out of poverty.
HOST is a new, whole-family approach to improving the life chances of the most vulnerable youth and adults in public housing developments around the country. The program brings integrated services to these communities, helping parents and children confront barriers to self-sufficiency like poor health, addiction, low literacy and educational attainment, and under- and unemployment.
We’re constantly evaluating new strategies to figure out what works. Our latest experiment: a “data walk” for residents of Altgeld Gardens, a public housing community and HOST site on Chicago’s South Side. Though our work is informed by residents’ experiences, residents aren’t typically involved in the ongoing data collection process. This time, though, we shared baseline survey and administrative data to hear what residents thought of the initiative and to learn what areas our data are not addressing. We are using their input to guide service provision for the remainder of the demonstration.
Community engagement in Altgeld Gardens is notoriously difficult, so we were prepared for the worst. But we worked hard with on-the-ground HOST staff to recruit families to participate and did our best to present the information in a user-friendly and engaging format. Ultimately, 28 adult residents and 8 HOST staff participated in our event—a great success in the Altgeld community. Here’s what we learned.
“I have had a lot of clients referred to food pantries because they don’t have enough food, so I can really relate to these numbers being so [high],” – HOST case manager
Our baseline survey revealed heartbreaking facts about food insecurity and hunger in Altgeld Gardens. About half of respondents didn’t have enough food to last the month or worried that their food supply would run out. One-fifth of residents had to cut the size of their meals to make food last longer.
It was shocking to hear responses from HOST staff and families; most felt the numbers should have been higher, indicating that food insecurity and hunger are more prevalent in the community than we expected.
“My son worked in the garden and he said, ‘Mama, come on out here.’ That made me interested [in HOST services].” – HOST adult
Many adults reported that their children’s HOST experiences motivated them to engage in HOST services themselves.
What resonated most for HOST adults and youth was being recognized for accomplishing their goals. As one case manager noted, “We had an event that was solely focused on the adults—they received awards and things of that nature—and afterward, my client came up to me and cried and said she had never been acknowledged like that.” We learned that whole family participation and recognition for reaching goals were huge motivating factors in getting HOST adults to take advantage of available services.
“She knows my whole family, she works with us.” - HOST adult
Before HOST, many Altgeld Gardens families were reluctant to engage with a case manager, but most eventually “came around” and built strong relationships with their services providers. Over the years, HOST families learned they can rely on their case managers and other HOST staff, and are beginning to see the changes they can help make.
The data walk experience really illustrated the value of bringing data back to the residents and involving them more in the data collection process. Engaging community members in research that concerns their well-being yields great response. It’s win-win; residents are more informed about their community, and researchers are more aware of what is and isn’t working. This feedback will help providers adjust services accordingly as the HOST demonstration comes to an end this year.
Moving forward, we’re planning similar data walk events in our other HOST sites. For more background, keep an eye out for an upcoming post from my colleague Brittany Edens.
Photo of the Altgeld Gardens "Data Walk" by Priya Saxena.