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This post is the third in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.
For today’s post we matched the Toronto film, “Off the Radar” with Nick Falvo, a doctoral candidate in Public Policy at Carleton University. Prior to his doctoral studies, Mr. Falvo worked for 10 years as a community social worker with homeless persons in Toronto.
Last month, the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente argued in favour of measuring outcomes of social programs, adding that “we need rigorous evidence about what works.”
Most of her readers likely agreed, and understandably so.
There’s a corollary to that assertion, however, which is that careful, precise measurement of social outcomes costs money and resources, a point that is aptly illustrated in the above video.
As Naveed’s travels make clear, the process of gathering robust, quantitative research on homelessness is labour-intensive. Research assistants need to be paid, and they need to be paid over many years. And this is to say nothing of the honoraria paid to research participants, or the substantial amounts of rent subsidies required for members of this study’s treatment group.
Quantitative approaches to research seek to measure and quantify, with as much numerical precision as possible. Qualitative research, by contrast, looks at more abstract concepts that are difficult—and not always possible—to measure.
The former is generally seen as being crucial for “evidenced-based policy-making.” Indeed, the latter is prone to being dismissed, and insufficiently robust—as Toronto-based consultant Iain De Jong has pointed out, “some is not a number.”
There is an awful lot of qualitative research out there on homelessness. There’s much less research on homelessness that’s quantitative, and this is precisely what makes the At Home/Chez Soi study so important.
Skeptics who want “hard facts” before seeing more public spending on social programs should also be prepared to see their elected officials agree to more public spending on research to fund that quantitative research.
The money for such research won’t just fall from the sky. And there are indications that the federal government will spend less money on research in the future.