The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
November 17, 2016

Using data to make a difference for Boston-area students at risk of homelessness

November 16, 2016

Data provide the glue for a new alliance fighting student homelessness and promoting academic success at a Promise Neighborhood site in Boston.

The Promise Neighborhood initiative, funded by the US Department of Education, aims to transform high-needs communities by supporting children from cradle to career. Promise Neighborhoods use a data-driven approach to identify programs that best serve their communities. The Urban Institute has been a technical assistance provider for 12 Promise Neighborhoods over five years, helping nonprofits in these communities build sustainable data systems and use those data to better serve residents

Because unstably housed students score lower than stably housed children on standardized tests in reading, spelling, and math, the Boston Promise Initiative (BPI) is using its data capacity to fight student homelessness. BPI has joined forces with Project Hope, a multiservice nonprofit, to launch No Child Goes Homeless in three partner schools within the Dudley Village Campus, the BPI target neighborhood. Though BPI data managers don’t know how many students are unstably housed, the project is working with almost 9 percent of the 1,400 children enrolled in the target schools. 

Here is how No Child Goes Homeless works: BPI serves as the nexus for assembling data, starting with data on early warning signals like spotty attendance, health, or behavioral issues. Project Hope collects this student information from teachers, guidance counselors, and case managers. The data are integrated with school data on achievement, family composition, and mobility to flag students at risk of homelessness. Using BPI as the conduit, case managers from Project Hope can securely share and analyze individual-level data about at-risk students with Boston Public Schools officials.

Other partners play a role and benefit from the shared data. For example , BPI’s umbrella organization, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), which has a long and august history of doing housing and organizing work in the Dudley Village Campus, contributes by developing and implementing eviction and foreclosure prevention strategies for families and by increasing the stock of affordable housing in the neighborhood through vehicles like community land trusts.  

In fiscal year 2016, No Child Goes Homeless worked with 125 students to provide social and logistical support in addressing the challenges of homelessness. This year, case managers are watching for newly at-risk students to join the program. BPI partners expect their new alliance to significantly lower residential instability for these students, and they have set a goal of increasing attendance for at least 75 percent of students whose families become permanently housed in the 2016–17 school year.

BPI’s local impact could have a broader reach, too. Public-sector leaders in Boston recently asked Project Hope and DSNI to shape and potentially participate in a pilot to demonstrate the effectiveness of further cross-sector collaboration to reduce student residential instability. The hope is to eventually replicate the pilot across the city. Eventually, Boston’s work could be an example for neighborhood data practitioners hoping to influence their cities nationwide.

Children play during Christmas in the City's 26th annual party, for Greater Boston area families living in homeless shelters, on Sunday, December 21, 2014. Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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