Saturday, January 29, 2011

Free data set - garble and tragedy included

So I've been scanning a big stack of "Annual Progress Report" (APR) forms that were submitted to HUD by San Francisco supportive housing programs that received federal "Continuum of Care" funding in the years 2002-2007. It's not a comprehensive set of all such reports, but there are about 4,000 pages -- all the APRs in the longer-term housing categories that were submitted as courtesy copies to our city Dept. of Human Services. I got these on a local public records request. Meant to follow up with a FOIA to HUD but didn't.

My idea, for reasons partly explained in this angry article, was to use this data set as a starting point for a census of unhappy departures, feet first and otherwise, from local publicly funded supportive housing programs that were supposed to keep formerly homeless tenants "stable" and healthy. Sadly, the project I had in mind was too much for one person. It's more like a job for a graduate research seminar with a semester or three of time on its many hands. Might still be worth doing, but by somebody with a lot more backup.

These APR (HUD-40118) forms are a good place to look for problems in supportive housing because, for every tenant who leaves a housing program, the form makes the program managers state a reason for the exit. The choices available include a few happy reasons, like "Left for a housing opportunity before completing program," but there are also reasons that hint at worlds of misery, like "Non-payment of rent/occupancy change", or the Orwellian "Non-compliance with project" and "Needs could not be met by project." Also "Disagreement with rules/persons," "Death," and "Unknown/disappeared."

By the way, I have to wonder how often anyone, at HUD or elsewhere, reads these reports all the way through. If they did, they'd fix a sentence like this one in the official instructions :
Note that all projects have been awarded funds as a result of responding to the program goals of assisting homeless persons obtain/remain in permanent housing and increase their skills and income."

Anyhow, I'm scanning the records request papers now in order to chuck the physical copies. If anybody wants a DVD of the scans, please advise. It would be nice to find them a good home.

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