The Homelessness Individuals and Families Information System: A Case Study in Canadian Capacity Building (1)
Peressini, Tracy, Engeland, John, Canadian Journal of Urban Research
This is a case study of a multi-stage collaborative process spearheaded by Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation from 1995 to 2001 to address the lack of high quality and reliable information about the homeless in Canada. The community-based collaborative efforts and ground-up process used to develop the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) are detailed, as are some of the obstacles and difficulties encountered in attempting to achieve consensus over the design, intent and purpose of the tool. HIFIS was built on a series of broad-based coalitions which included: government officials, university researchers, service providers, front-line workers and the homeless themselves. HIFIS is an administrative tool designed to assist shelter providers to collect longitudinal, multi-location, standardized data about consumers, with the goal of improving service coordination, program development and public policy. The primary concerns identified throughout the collaborative process were client anonymity and confidentiality, as well as control and ownership of the information collected. Finally, the positive outcomes and challenges associated with creating and sustaining a nation-wide effort to build capacity in the homeless service providing community are discussed.
Keywords: Homelessness, Data Collection and Management, Canadian Shelters, Capacity Building
Il s'agit d'une etude de cas portant sur un processus de collaboration en plusieurs etapes chapeaute de 1995 a 2001 par la Societe canadienne d'hypotheques et de logement qui avait pour but de combler une lacune en matiere d'information fiable et de grande qualite sur les sans-abri du Canada. Les efforts de collaboration communautaires et le processus issu de la base utilise pour mettre sur pied le Systeme d'information sur les personnes et les familles sans abri (SISA) sont decrits en detail tout comme certains obstacles et difficultes qui ont marque les tentatives effectuees pour en arriver a un consensus relativement a la conception, au but et a l'utilisation de cet outil. Le SISA a ete monte a partir d'une serie de coalitions diversifiees formdes notamment de fonctionnaires gouvernementaux, de chercheurs universitaires, de fournisseurs de services, de travailleurs de premiere ligne et d'itinerants. Le SISA est un outil administratif concu pour aider les centres d'hebergement a recueillir des donnaes longitudinales et normalisees, provenant de plusieurs endroits, au sujet des utilisateurs, le but etant d'ameliorer la coordination des services, l'elaboration des programmes et la politique officielle. Les principales preoccupations soulevees tout au long du processus de collaboration avaient trait a l'anonymat des clients et a la confidentialite des renseignements les concernant, ainsi qu'a la gestion et a la propriete des donnees recueillies. Enfin, on commente les resultats favorables obtenus et les difficultes qui ont marque la creation et le maintien d'un effort national devant developper le potentiel des organismes de services aux sans-abri.
Mots eles : Itinerance, Abris Canadienne, capacite-batiment
Over the last two decades governments world-wide have recognized the need for collaborative efforts to integrate the knowledge, expertise and experience of researchers, social service practitioners and policy makers into a unified systemic approach that provides a framework to address the complex needs and well-being of vulnerable populations (Weible et al., 2004; Smith, 2003; Thomas, 2001; Thomas, 1999; Mandell, 1999; Eade, 1997; Chaskin, Joseph and Chipenda-Dansokho, 1997; Mulroy and Shay, 1997). Yet, the concepts of community development, capacity building and, especially, collaboration are comparatively new to the community providing services and shelter to the homeless in Canada. In many regards this Canadian service providing community has operated autonomously, rarely engaging in collaborative efforts to address the problem of homelessness collectively locally, regionally or nationally. Because they rely on charitable donations and compete for scarce funding at the provincial and municipal levels, homeless shelter and service providers throughout the 20th century have had to develop, operate and sustain themselves in relative independence and isolation of each other (HRDC, 2001; Chekki, 1999; Miller et al., 1995). One of the outcomes of this has been a notable lack of regular, reliable and comparable information about the consumers of homeless services and programs in Canada (Peressini, 2004).
The Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (H1FIS) developed from a CMHC initiative to carry out research that would culminate in the production of standardized data and information about the homeless across Canada. As Eade notes, "... information is vital to participation and empowerment, and hence to capacity building" (1997: 67). The development of HIFIS, therefore, represents a case study in bi-level capacity building. First, as an administrative tool, it has been designed to help policy makers and shelter agencies to collect the data needed to better address the needs of the local, regional and national homeless population. Secondly, the data and information generated by HIFIS can be employed as a means to empower homeless people to participate in the development of flexible and responsive programs and services that meet their needs. HIFIS, then, represents a long-term investment in the homeless and the people and organizations who serve them, as well as a commitment to facilitating an approach to data collection that empowers the homeless to better shape the forces that affect their lives (Weible et al, 2004; Smith, 2003; Thomas, 2001; Mandell, 1999; Eade, 1997). Carried out over six years between 1995 and 2001, the design and development of HIFIS is an applied example of how community-based agencies, municipalities, higher level governments, universities, as well as the homeless themselves, can work together to develop high-quality data germane to service, program and policy development. The goal of this project was to develop a tool that could be used nation-wide, therefore, the collaborative process included stakeholders and partners from shelters, service providers, community organizations and all levels of government from across the country. While there are …
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Publication information: Article title: The Homelessness Individuals and Families Information System: A Case Study in Canadian Capacity Building (1). Contributors: Peressini, Tracy - Author, Engeland, John - Author. Journal title: Canadian Journal of Urban Research. Volume: 13. Issue: 2 Publication date: Winter 2004. Page number: 347+. © 2000 Institute of Urban Studies. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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