As Data and Research Manager at Heading Home, I am constantly looking at client-level data pulled out from our Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS). This means that I’m looking at a large list of ones and zeroes; sometimes after a long day, I start to feel like I’m Neo from the Matrix. One responsibility of mine is to compile our organization’s placement figures for families moving out of emergency shelter and into permanent housing. At the end of our fiscal year, I look at all of the data and come out with a number. This one statistic speaks to the journey that our clients are on toward housing stability. This one statistic boils down 365 days of hard work on the part of my colleagues. This one statistic, however, is more than just a number.
One Thursday afternoon, I was lucky enough to visit a property where an organization was volunteering for an Up & Out. Donating their time and resources, this organization took an empty apartment and made it into a home for one of our families. Every nook and cranny of this apartment was filled with things that took my breath away. Whether it was the fridge and cabinets stockpiled with food. Or it was the mother’s bedroom that had a framed picture of her family. For me, however, it was the daughter’s bedroom that was adorned with a unicorn theme. From the sheets, toys, and piggy bank, everything was unicorn. To think of the journey that this little girl was on, who now has a room that she can call her own, gave me chills.
In my position, I often get lost in data because I love it so much. But I now understand that while data is so critical to our mission, it can be impersonal. Being part of this experience helped contextualize so much of what we do at Heading Home. Instead of seeing this family as one more tick for our placement figures, I saw a touching story of a family that was no longer homeless.
Dave Parilla, Data & Research Manager