VISTA Spotlight: Data Integration In a Year of Service to THN
By: Joe Schultz, Statewide Data Sharing Initiatives Associate
It has been an extremely difficult year for most people but I wanted to take this opportunity to shine a light on the fantastic experience that I’ve had working with Texas Homeless Network (THN) and the exciting initiatives that I’ve worked on over the past year.
In February 2020, I moved from Milwaukee, WI to Austin, TX for a position with Texas Homeless Network through the Americorps VISTA program. Since that time, I’ve primarily focused on a data integration effort called the Texas Homeless Data Sharing Network (THDSN).
Texas’ homeless serving agencies are organized into eleven groups called Continuums of Care (CoCs) which coordinate services within their geographical areas for those at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, there were no effective processes or tools in place to share their information or identify housing shelter and service opportunities for them from region to region. This can be especially problematic for those actively involved in treatment, training, or other case management interventions to maintain or improve health, employment, or other beneficial outcomes as they work on exiting homelessness. Because of this, in 2019, THN began working with their partners throughout the state to connect each of Texas’ eleven CoCs into one information-sharing network.
The THDSN is designed to accelerate access to resources by those experiencing homelessness and the service coordinators working with them, especially when dealing with a natural disaster or a health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. The THDSN also makes combatting homelessness on a state and regional level more efficient because it delivers data to support planning, intervention, and policy-making.
It was really thrilling for me to begin my year of VISTA service with THN and have the opportunity to add value to such an exciting and impactful effort like the Texas Homeless Data Sharing Network. I got the opportunity to work with homelessness prevention leaders throughout the state who make up the project’s governing body, participate in the process to identify and contract with a software vendor to build and manage the network’s data warehouse, work with project partners and legal professionals to develop data sharing/use agreements between THN and our CoC partners, and coordinate the project’s general activities as we progressed through our timeline of execution.
I also focused heavily on acquiring funding used to support the THDSN project as it moves forward. It was my first opportunity to research and develop grant proposals and I really enjoyed these activities which allowed me to improve my career skills from a personal standpoint as well as the fundraising processes for the project team at THN. I’m even planning to focus on positions related to fundraising/development as I continue my career in the nonprofit sector as a result of the skills and experience that I gained through this position.
Even though my year of VISTA service was made much more difficult by circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m now walking away from this position with so much more knowledge, experience, and passion for helping others than I started with a year ago. The staff members at THN have been so wonderful to work with and really made me feel like I was their colleague and not just an AmeriCorps member helping out. I’m so appreciative to THN for putting their faith in me and allowing me to have a significant influence on such an exciting and impactful effort. As I’ve written in several grant applications this year, the success of the Texas Homeless Data Sharing Network will be a huge, Texas-sized step towards making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring, and I truly believe that the skills, experience, and relationships I’ve built at THN over the last year signify a huge, Texas-sized step for myself as I step into the next chapter of my life.