MGEU - Manitoba Government and General Employees Union

Rustam Dow: Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) Specialist - Local 349 - End Homelessness Winnipeg


Don’t automatically think of information management as a way to serve and support homeless Manitobans? Think again.

In 2015, a number of community groups came together to develop a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Winnipeg. Since then, members at End Homelessness Winnipeg – Local 439 have taken on this ambitious goal with commitment and passion, bringing together community agencies, funders, public and private sectors and concerned citizens to address the root causes of homelessness and prevent its occurrence.

For Rustam Dow, this means using his Master’s of Information from the University of Toronto to help several emergency shelters and frontline agencies track their clients, services and costs through HIFIS, an innovative piece of software developed by Economic and Social Development Canada.

“Essentially, I support the implementation of HIFIS in-and-around Winnipeg,” Rustam said. “I set-up organizations in the system, provide initial and ongoing end-user support and training, and build custom reporting tools. Our aim is two-fold — to assist agencies in serving their clients through better reporting and information-gathering, and to gather aggregate data that can provide critical insights into the state of homeless in our area.”

Since he started on the job shortly before the first pandemic lockdown, End Homelessness’s reach began expanding province-wide. Today, dozens of community agencies, including a number of MGEU Locals – Main Street Project , Willow Place, YWCA Westman Women’s Shelter, and Parkland Crisis Centre -- look to him for HIFIS training and troubleshooting, as well as customized reporting capabilities.

“It’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to come face-to-face with such distress and trauma every time you go into work,” Rustam said. “I know it’s hard for many of the frontline workers to try and shift gears and start worrying about data collection and placement modules. But you need both and that’s where I come in behind the scenes. Ultimately, the information we collect can be used to inform policies and decisions that will serve people better.”

To ensure the software is capturing information that is truly useful,  a data management working group with representatives from each agency regularly meets to discuss how reporting can be improved. 

“We might ask ourselves: is the housing placement module helping us understand why some placements fail?” Rustam said. “Or are the current software modules helping us capture the migration of people coming into the city from remote communities and the challenges they face?”

Sometimes, he added, it’s hard to fathom how a country as resource-rich as Canada is still dealing with homelessness at all.

“Just thinking about the extent of human suffering across our province can take its toll. But hands down, the best part of my job is the amazing agency people I partner with everyday.  Their determination to be there for others and make a real difference gives me hope.”

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