Observations of a First-Time Wilder Survey Interviewer

Wilder Research has conducted a statewide study of homelessness since 1991. The study is a point-in-time survey of people throughout the state who meet the federal definition of homelessness. It includes counts and estimates of the number of people who are homeless and a survey of homeless people with volunteers from across the state. This year, qualified volunteers explored more than 400 shelter locations throughout Minnesota (Twin Cities, Duluth, Brainerd, St. Cloud, and Mankato), and for a companion study on Minnesota American Indian reservations.

For more information about the Wilder Survey, click here.

Reflections from a Wilder Survey Interviewer

Sharon Mason is a long-time MCH supporter, and this was her first time participating in the Wilder Homeless Study. Read below as she reflects upon her experiences. 

During the past half dozen years, my familiarity with the “Minnesota Statewide Survey of Persons Without Permanent Shelter”–or as it is widely known “Minnesota Homeless Study”–has centered on using the survey findings and reports for two purposes:

  1. Expand my personal understanding of this heartbreaking–and yet solvable–issue of Minnesotans not having adequate shelter
  2. Share what I’ve learned with others, including my legislators, in order to bring about change and action
As you are probably aware, the study is conducted once every three years during a one-day period. It is developed, coordinated and analyzed by the Amherst H Wilder Foundation, a Minnesota treasure focused on direct services, research and community building. Persons who are sought out and interviewed include those who are staying in shelters, transitional housing, and doubled-up situations or who may be living outdoors, in cars, in vacant buildings or places of business, and also those who are at risk of eviction from their housing.
I didn’t want to miss the chance to connect with these precious people and to participate “upstream” as an interviewer and gatherer of information on the appointed survey day, Thursday, October 25. Here’s why I wanted to do it: Wilder’s work is important! No, it’s much more than that…it’s absolutely necessary and peoples’ lives depend on it! This survey gives us a reliable view of the nature and extent of homelessness in our state, and it also gives us no excuses for not addressing its urgency.
What an experience it was to be part of this ambitious effort! Let me share three of the highlights and observations from my experience.
  •  Prior to interviewing, training is required so that the surveys can be conducted statewide in a uniform, respectful, confidential manner. The people at Wilder were so thorough in preparing interviewers with sample materials, video resources, contact names and numbers, etc. It helped to have a good handle on the process before jumping in and I sensed that all the interviewers wanted to conduct these surveys with the utmost integrity!
  •  The survey is voluntary and confidential. Its 100 questions are personal and probing, and it takes 45 minutes or more to get through each survey. For both interviewer and interviewee, the survey can be challenging with questions covering a wide array of topics from current and past housing situations to employment and income sources, military service, health history, and childhood, to name a few.
  • I saved the best for last as I consider what I experienced and learned as an interviewer. It’s about THE PEOPLE who are willing to be questioned yet one more time, who may have had mixed experiences with their attempts to access housing and social services that they need, who may feel trapped in their situation with few options to escape it, who may struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues, who may have experienced physical or sexual abuse in childhood or while homeless–the list goes on and on. I have deep respect for the interviewees and how they graciously bare their souls. Let’s not forget that the road to gathering reliable data about Minnesota’s homeless is paved with hundreds of vulnerable and often marginalized people who are willing to share their stories of powerlessness, frustration, dreams dashed, despair, and unanticipated twists and turns of life.
Where to go from here?
I plan to continue to learn from the Wilder study and use its findings to support my efforts as a volunteer housing advocate. I’ll redouble my own efforts to bring about better policy, funding and systems that can unlock benefit for all of us by doing what’s right for those among us who are marginalized.  As I do this, I’ll be mindful and forever changed by the real people that the study findings describe.


Learn more about the Wilder Homeless Study