Program Evaluation for the Homelessness Sector

Needs Assessments

This lesson focuses on needs assessments, what they are used for and when to use them.

How are programs and services developed?

It may seem sometimes that they materialize from thin air, but there are a series of steps that usually happen before they come to be. You created your program to provide a service and address a need that wasn’t being met previously. Before a program is developed, organizers will typically conduct a needs assessment so they can understand how best to serve the community. A needs assessment defines the gap between where your community is and where your community wants to be.

Needs assessments are quite common in the homelessness sector. Organizations notice that there are gaps in services or they want to find out if there is a need and if modifications to existing services are required. The results of the need assessment can also provide evidence to funders that new programs or services may be required or that current programs and services require modification. 

Below are some questions that community organizations will want to ask when conducting a needs assessment. You can find more information and a detailed guide for conducting a needs assessment on the Community Toolbox website

Questions to consider:

  1. What are the current challenges in your community?
  2. What are the current strengths in your community?
  3. Who is the target group being addressed?
    • Socio-demographics (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, language)
    • Challenges experienced by this group
    • Strengths of this group

To answer these questions, gather groups of people who are knowledgeable about the community and the service or program area. Together, they will form an advisory council or steering committee. It will be important to include a diverse group of people within these councils or committees, with an emphasis on individuals who have lived experience. 

If would like some ideas of how to conduct a needs assessment, you can check out these examples :