What We’re Learning: Health Care for the Homeless Conference & Good Tech Fest


Kathryn (Callie) Kaplan, MPH | Senior Research Associate

I attended the 2018 National Health Care for the Homeless Conference & Policy Symposium in Minneapolis, Minnesota from May 15-17.   The title of this year’s conference was “Working Together for Community” and covered a wide range of topics related to health service provision, healthcare policy, the intersection of healthcare, housing and other homeless services, and healthcare advocacy for the homeless. I was particularly focused on attending sessions related to the coordination of data systems within homeless service sectors, such as healthcare or housing, and ways in which we can utilize data systems to better tailor care and provide wraparound services. This information will be critical in moving forward with our ongoing Cooperative Agreement to Benefit Homeless Individuals (CABHI) project, which seeks to improve services for youth and families experiencing homelessness and substance use issues. The learnings will also inform our upcoming evaluation of Heartland Alliance Health’s innovative Health Neighborhoods program.
Most impactful to me, however, was the opening keynote speaker, Dr. Howard Pinderhughes, and a session by Dr. Marc Dones and Jeff Olivet from SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities) who produced a critical report on racism and homelessness that anyone and everyone working in the field should read. Both the keynote address and the presentation and discussion of the SPARC report highlighted that if we are not talking about racism as a driver of homelessness, then we are not talking about homelessness in any meaningful way.  Racism is the reason why many Black and Brown communities are consistently traumatized by violence while having a dearth of mental health services, educational and employment opportunities, and affordable housing options–a product of historical design.  One point Dr. Pinderhughes said that has really stayed with me is that we often talk about young people who face violence daily as experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a term which came out of post-war mental health work.  However, for many young people, there is no post: it is really persistent traumatic stress disorder.  
The connections between violence, PTSD and other mental health issues, incarceration, and homelessness are well-documented.  If we want to reduce homelessness, we cannot exclusively stay on the service delivery end of the river–we need to go upstream to fight the major political and social drivers. Integrating strong anti-racist principles into our professional and personal lives is the first step.

Alexis “Ali” Carella, Ph.D. | Senior Research Associate

The Good Tech Fest in Detroit was wonderful. Myself, Suniya and my infant daughter Nina (when she could stay awake) all spent long days learning about the ways in which people are using data to impact the world in a positive way. Standout sessions for me focused on themes such as effective data visualizations, data science, and how one company – Marinus Analytics – is using machine learning and facial recognition technology to fight human trafficking. It was invigorating to spend time with others who share our similar pain points when it comes to data collection and analysis, and engage in deep solution-oriented dialogue.
The Good Tech Fest re-affirmed my belief that when companies both put in the hard work of building out theories of change and building results frameworks that are linked to participant outcomes, and stand behind their findings, that funders will see value in internal participant data and perhaps limit the extensive external tracking. And, as a proud Chicago woman, I realize my following statement may cause serious arguments, but I have to say-Detroit style deep dish pizza isn’t messing around. That pizza is goooood. 

Suniya Farooqui | Data Analyst
It was great to FINALLY meet Nina in person! She was a trooper for attending all the sessions with Ali. I took a lot away from the sessions focused on data visualizations and mapping. Especially getting hands-on training on QGIS-an open source mapping software. But I also learned a lot about areas I was not familiar with, like machine learning and artificial learning. There are some amazing organizations, such as DataKind that are helping nonprofits to efficiently utilize their limited resources and time through machine learning.

The Good Tech Fest also made me realize how difficult it can be for the nonprofit world, as a sector to come together and collaborate. Conferences like The Good Tech Fest give us opportunities to create partnerships and get out of our silos. Also on a personal note, as someone who considers Chicago their 2nd home and resides in Detriot–Chicago deep dish pizza rules! 

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