VI-SPDAT: 14 Things That Irk Me

Here are the 14 things that people do with the VI-SPDAT, say about the VI-SPDAT, or don’t know about the VI-SPDAT that irk me:

1. Confuse it with an assessment tool.

The VI-SPDAT is a triage tool. The SPDAT is an assessment tool. In almost all instances when a person says something to the effect of, “But the VI-SPDAT doesn’t give us enough detail about x, y or z.” I agree with them. Because the VI-SPDAT as a triage tool is not designed to give all the details about x, y or z. If you want to know more about x, y or z, learn how to administer the assessment tool because the level of detail you are yearning for is stuff that should be gleaned through an assessment.

2. Have an inconsistent introductory script. 

If you want reliability in using the VI-SPDAT, make sure that every person that administers the tool in your community introduces it and explains it in EXACTLY the same way. No variation.

3. Think that you cannot explore for more information.

 In Version 1 of the VI-SPDAT, this was the case – you could only ask the questions as written. In Version 2 of the VI-SPDAT we made it possible to further explore through observation, documentation and, with consent, what other professionals know about certain parts of the household’s history.

4. Use it too far up stream.

Diversion first at shelter entry. When that does not work, give people a chance to self resolve. Only when that does not work should a community dig into the VI-SPDAT. If you do the VI-SPDAT right away, you may inadvertently give up on people that may otherwise self resolve.

5. Use it judgmentally. 

The VI-SPDAT gives you a number. If a community starts referring to people as a number then the tool has failed. People are not a number. People are people.

6. Lack knowledge of the full suite of SPDAT tools.

There are full SPDAT instruments for youth, families and single adults. There are VI-SPDAT instruments for youth, families, single adults and people leaving incarceration. There is also a diversion and prevention VI-SPDAT. Use the wrong tool in the wrong situation and you will get the wrong results.

7. Think the score of the VI-SPDAT is the only piece of information that should be used when establishing community priorities for coordinated entry.

Let me be really clear on this – we do NOT suggest that any community prioritize households based upon the VI-SPDAT score alone. Only your community can establish the priorities for your community. That usually is some combination of VI-SPDAT along WITH things like chronic homelessness, where they are homeless (like the street), trimorbidity.

8. Fail to examine what the data tells them about their system or program performance.

Every now and then a community will say things like, “The VI-SPDAT does not work for Rapid Re-Housing. It keeps saying people should need RRH, then they lose their housing. They really needed Permanent Supportive Housing.”

Part of that may be true. But let us consider something else as well – that your RRH sucks. The issue may not be the tool. The issue may be that service providers in your community do not know how to do RRH properly. Or even PSH properly. That isn’t an issue with the tool.

9. Add multipliers.

You can establish community priorities based upon priorities like trying to house medically vulnerable people first. No problem. What you can’t do is take things like the Wellness section and decide to multiply that by 2 or 3. Filter your data. Do not multiply your data.

10. Do not understand how the questions were actually created.

Most of the questions within the tool were actually created by people experiencing homelessness. We would take the research to them in shelters, drop-ins, hygiene facilities, in the woods, etc. and we would say, “We need to ask a question about x, y or z. How would you ask yourself that question?” Then we tested it and refined it. Over and over and over and over again.

11. Say that the tool is not culturally appropriate, or make claims that it is not trauma-informed, or not appropriate for programs that serve people that have experienced domestic or intimate partner violence.

To make this claim ignores that we have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting experts in trauma, domestic violence and culturally appropriate services to vet the tool, make suggestions on improvements, and testing it with the targeted audiences.

12. Claim it does not work for (insert type of program or population group).

The more that we hear these sorts of things, the more that we investigate and find dead ends. So far the only group that MAY have some legitimacy is young head of household families. And even then, we don’t know for sure yet.

13.  Doing the VI-SPDAT over and over and over again.

Unless the household has been housed and become homeless again, or has had a major change in their life circumstances, you only need to do the VI-SPDAT once. Period. 

14. Think it is perfect.

The tool provides data. It does not make decisions, it informs decisions. The tool is not perfect. It will continue to evolve and improve. It is the best available tool based upon the best available evidence and testing. Continue to have an active voice in making it better.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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