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Poverty Solutions receives grant to develop homelessness data-to-action playbook

By Lauren Slagter

ANN ARBOR —Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan is one of three organizations across the country contributing to a new “Education Leads Home” Data-to-Action Playbook that will offer guidance on how to use student homelessness data to advocate for better support for youth without a stable place to live. 

SchoolHouse Connection, a national nonprofit working to overcome homelessness through education, awarded a grant to Poverty Solutions to compile the data-to-action playbook based on interviews with the featured organizations, which include Building Changes in Washington, The Education Trust – New York, and Poverty Solutions. 

Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, said this work is even more urgent in light of how homelessness intersects with the ongoing effects of the pandemic and the current movement to address structural racism. 

“The organizations profiled in the playbook have analyzed and used education data in innovative ways to shine a light on student homelessness and to compel action in policy and practice,” Duffield said. “It is our hope that by assembling their insights and experiences, other organizations will adapt and replicate their work, ultimately improving educational and life outcomes for children and youth who experience homelessness.”

Jennifer Erb-Downward, a senior research associate at Poverty Solutions who studies child and family homelessness, has contributed to past SchoolHouse Connection projects. Her work identifying an undercount of children experiencing homelessness in Detroit’s schools led to more collaboration between public schools and the shelter system in Detroit. Erb-Downward also worked with the Michigan League for Public Policy to identify the low enrollment of young children experiencing homelessness in Michigan’s early childhood programs. The Michigan Department of Education has now convened a taskforce to increase the enrollment of homeless children from birth to age 5 in early education and to provide families with the support they need to access stable housing. 

Related: Issue at a glance: Child homelessness

These are the types of “data-to-action” examples that will be featured in the playbook, which is expected to be released in February 2021. Topics covered will include:

  • How to select homeless education topics (identification, chronic absence, achievement, early childhood, etc.)
  • How to find research partners (universities, advocacy organizations, state agencies)
  • How to obtain data (data-sharing agreements, publicly available data, etc.)
  • How to analyze data
  • How to present data (interactive maps, visualizations)
  • How to frame findings for key target audiences: educators, housing/homeless community, state legislators/policymakers, advocacy organizations
  • How to find advocacy partners, or connect to existing campaigns
  • Case studies 

“It’s really designed to try to help someone from wherever they’re starting at. This will be a national guide for best practices for how to use data to guide policy change to ensure students experiencing homelessness have access to their educational rights,” said Erb-Downward. “One of things I think is exciting about this is we (at Poverty Solutions) have both an opportunity to contribute and also an opportunity to learn.”

Zoë Erb, a project coordinator at Poverty Solutions, is in the process of analyzing information gathered from interviewing the other featured organizations. 

“I hope that people use it as a springboard to start conversations at their own organizations about ways they can leverage their own resources and find ways to take concrete action to really make a difference for students who are experiencing homelessness, and to access the tools they need to help get other people on board to their cause,” Erb said.