Calgary Homeless Foundation Releases its Research Agenda

By Nick Falvo, PhD

This week, the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) released its updated Research Agenda.

Full disclosure: I’m CHF’s Director of Research and Data, and I co-authored this year’s research agenda along with Rachel Campbell.

Here are 10 things to know:

  1. The CHF is a non-governmental organization that disburses funding to Calgary non-profits to deliver housing and programming to persons experiencing homelessness. CHF also monitors the performance of each program it funds. More than three-quarters of the funding in question comes from the Government of Alberta. For more on CHF’s role, see this previous blog post.
  2. Over the years, CHF has partnered on a considerable number of research projects. The just-released research agenda lists every publication on which CHF has partnered since 2008 (all of those publications are listed in the document’s Appendix A). This is the first time we’ve listed them all in one place. Special thanks to my colleague, Rachel Campbell, for not only listing them all in one place, but also for writing an annotation discussing each one.
  3. Since 2009, CHF has published research agendas approximately once every two years. Previous versions are available at this link. Each research agenda is a bit like an annual report about CHF’s research.
  4. Every two years, CHF also organizes a community research symposium. The most recent one was held in April 2015. Several themes emerged at that event as knowledge-gaps requiring additional research. Key themes identified for future exploration included: marginalized populations (including Indigenous peoples, seniors, families, and youth); the causes of homelessness; patterns of ‘exit’ from homelessness; and recidivism. Our next symposium is being planned for May 2017.
  5. A major strength of CHF research is its use of data. An example of this is a 2015 study led by CHF’s Senior Researcher, Dr. Ali Jadidzadeh, looking at shelter use over a five-year period by nearly 33,000 individuals in Calgary. The report finds that, contrary to popular perception, the great majority of people who use emergency shelters in Calgary do so very infrequently and for only short periods of time. That report is titled Who Are the Homeless? Numbers, Trends and Characteristics of Those Without Homes in Calgary. The link to the report is here.
  6. The main reason CHF is able to use data stems from the fact that we oversee a city-wide database system with information on persons experiencing homelessness. When Calgary developed its plan to end homelessness back in 2008, it also decided to develop an information management system. Many of Calgary’s homeless-serving organizations enter client information into a database called the Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS). Client-level information (such as age, health status, employment status and housing status) is entered into the database. While the client is receiving services, updated information continues to be entered and updated. In the case of some programs, exit and post-exit follow-up assessments are completed. The HMIS system helps homeless-serving programs in Calgary to prioritize and refer clients to other programs. Some organizations also use the data to provide case management services to clients. Today, all Calgary non-profit programs that receive funding from CHF must use the HMIS. For more on Calgary’s HMIS system, see this previous blog post, as well as point #8 in this previous post.
  7. This year, CHF co-organized the First Annual Canadian Homelessness Data Sharing Initiative. In May 2016, approximately 40 people attended the event (which was co-sponsored with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy). A major goal was to bring together persons with access to various forms of homelessness data. Those attending included government officials, researchers and students. This will become an annual event, with the next one currently being planned for May 2017. For more on the first event, see this previous blog post.
  8. CHF likes to partner on research that has an impact on both practice and policy. We discuss several such examples in the research agenda, one of which is a project in which we developed standards of practice for case managers working in Housing First programs. This research led to a mandatory accreditation process for all CHF-funded agencies; and in 2013, we learned that the American Case Management Association had begun using this research as part of their curriculum for accreditation of case managers.
  9. Some of CHF’s best research involves persons with lived experience with homelessness. The Homeless Charter of Rights project has used a participatory action research approach to examine the barriers to service faced by persons in Calgary experiencing homelessness. This project, which is ongoing, has involved persons with lived experienced at all stages.
  10. CHF research is developing an international reputation. After reviewing a draft version of the current recent research agenda, Professor Thomas Byrne (Boston University) noted: “I can’t think of a single community here in the United States that is as engaged and thoughtful about conducting research (specifically to inform their practice) as the Calgary Homeless Foundation.”

Click here to view the CHF Research Agenda.

Nick Falvo is Director of Research and Data at the Calgary Homeless Foundation. His area of research is social policy, with a focus on poverty, housing, homelessness and social assistance. Nick has a PhD in public policy from Carleton University. Fluently bilingual, he is a member of the editorial board of the Canadian Review of Social Policy/ Revue canadienne de politique sociale. Follow him on Twitter: @nicholas_falvo