How We Conduct Research on Homelessness Matters as Much as Our Findings

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Here at the Alliance, we love solid research on homelessness. Strong studies of homeless populations give our policy team and our advocates the ammunition they need to make compelling arguments to lawmakers about the necessity of support for homeless persons.

But homeless populations arguably are one of the most difficult populations to study, because they are often transient, lack consistent contact information, and may not want to identify themselves as homeless. For this reason, one of the most valuable types of research on homelessness is actually research about research.

Confused? Allow me to explain. The value of research is dependent on the way researchers go about conducting it (i.e. its methodology). The better the methodology of the research, the more useful the researcher’s findings will be, both for policymakers and other researchers. So it’s really important that researchers develop strong methodologies.

With this goal in mind, many researchers are actually studying methodologies themselves, instead of studying particular populations. In other words: rather than studying homeless youth themselves, researchers might examine the best methods to study homeless youth. That way, they and other researchers will have solid methodologies on which to base future studies of homeless youth.

If we want to have good data on homeless youth (which is currently quite limited), the methodology we use to collect it is extremely important. That’s why it’s particularly exciting that academics at the University of Denver recently published an article on the best uses of technology for conducting longitudinal research on homeless youth.

In this particular study, researchers expanded on a previous study that showed that homeless youth tend to rely on technology to stay in touch with contacts. Their new study examined what type of technological contact—phone call, text, email, or Facebook—elicited the best response from homeless youth.

Homeless youth participating in the study were given pre-paid cell phones with three months of unlimited phone calls and texts. The study found that youth were more likely to respond to communication using cell phones (i.e. phone calls and texts) than over email or Facebook.

This likely was because, over the three months of the study, youths who were transient had limited access to email and Facebook, but they could take their cell phones with them wherever they went. Additionally, homeless youth tended to respond by text, no matter what the original form of communication was.

Studies like these are important in our quest to conduct more and better research on homelessness. As research continues improve and grow, our advocates will be better able to fight for the funding and services necessary to end homelessness.

Are you interested in learning more about how we can improve data on homeless youth? Are you coming to the Alliance’s February Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in San Diego? Come to workshop 5.7 on February 20 to learn more!