County Health Rankings and Ways to Improve Community Wellbeing

Did you know that in the United States there is a 15 year difference in life expectancy based on where you live, your income, education, race, and access to health care? You can view information by county on the health ranking in your area with the recently released 2017 County Health Rankings. Find out more in this article on how to view the rankings and how your community can use the data to improve its health outcomes and wellbeing.

Innovating HUD Homeless Counts

ASR focuses its community building efforts to end homelessness through peer-centric data collection that informs community action. Read about how ASR's processes have developed and evolved from 2005 to 2017. Article included media links to coverage from the 2017 Homeless Point-In-Time Counts.

5-Year Triple P Report Released!

5-Year Triple P Report Released!

Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, a  program of First 5 Santa Cruz County, released their 5-Year (2010-2015) report last Thursday (May 26th, 2016) highlighting the program's effectiveness of teaching practical, scientifically-proven parenting strategies in order to strengthen communication and relationships among families in Santa Cruz County. 

Stories from the Count

Because the event draws folks from all walks of life, many who have never met before, it provides the opportunity for volunteers and guides to meet new people, many from different walks of life. When teams come back to their deployment centers, we frequently hear lots of stories about their time during the count. Here is a little sampling of some of those stories:

The 21st Annual Santa Cruz Community Assessment Project

ASR joined the United Way, Dominican Hospital, and a host of community stakeholders, elected officials, and interested community members for the release of the 21st annual Community Assessment Project (CAP). Santa Cruz County's CAP is the second longest running CAP in the country and has received national and international awards for its continued updates about life in Santa Cruz County. 

ASR at the OECD's 5th Annual World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy

Applied Survey Research had the privilege of attending the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 5th World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy in Guadalajara, Mexico. The conference provided an opportunity to raise our gaze beyond community level work, hear from international experts and acknowledge our role in a global world. 

A Note from Susan

We at ASR have the wonderful opportunity to work with fabulous partners - those who are committed, caring, and who make meaningful contributions to wellbeing for all.  In so many instances we work together so intensely that we may not appreciate how well we work together and how much we accomplish when we work together. 

The Homeless Census and Survey of 2015

Applied Survey Research is currently in the data collection, analysis and reporting phase for the 2015 biennial Homeless Census and Survey effort. ASR has partnered with 9 counties throughout California to produce demographic profiles and basic assessments of homeless persons living in each county, as well as population estimates of certain subpopulations and detailed information regarding their personal experiences facing homelessness. In 2015, ASR partnered with Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Francisco, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Sonoma, Marin, and Solano counties. This marks the first time we’ve partnered with Marin and Solano counties on their homeless census and survey, while it’s the ninth time that ASR has partnered with Santa Cruz County. It’s been an exciting time as ASR continues partnerships with familiar counties, while establishing new relationships as well.

The Homeless Census and Survey is based on a requirement of  the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that all counties (typically called a Continuum of Care) applying for  homeless funding from the federal government should conduct a count of all homeless persons living in their county. It takes place during odd-numbered years across the country during the last 10 days of January. ASR’s method for counting has been recognized by HUD as a best practices model and employs a strategy where a volunteer from the community is teamed up with an individual currently experiencing homelessness. It is our experience that placing a homeless, paid guide with the volunteer brings first-hand knowledge and expertise to the team, allowing them to better recognize homeless individuals and to better locate homeless individuals. During the census efforts in virtually all the counties, we consistently heard from volunteers that the presence of the guide allowed them to identify homeless individuals that they would never have identified on their own. We even heard this from outreach worker staff whose job is to interface with the homeless on a daily basis.

Once the count is completed, ASR follows up with a detailed survey in order to get more in depth information on the experience and circumstances of homeless individuals in each county. The survey includes questions about their regular nighttime accommodations, where they were located before becoming homeless, what kinds of services they use, and many other questions designed to increase the understanding of homelessness in that particular county. Just like the count, ASR uses paid homeless individuals to conduct surveys. Respondents receive a gift for taking the survey and the interviewer is compensated for their effort as well. Homeless guide participation in the census and survey provides temporary employment but also has been great for their self-esteem and engagement.

The Homeless Census and Survey of 2015 has been a great experience so far and, as the survey portion is wrapping up, we look forward to analyzing all the excellent data we’ve received.  While HUD can be quite strict in both homeless census methodology and data reporting requirements, there is room for community oriented questions and local outreach that is difficult to achieve through other sources. ASR hopes the data will inform and engage the community in developing local strategies that address the unique profiles that emerge. While there are many “best practice” solutions we can learn from, the best responses are those that address the unique characteristics and resources in our community. Data from the counts and the survey will be available to the public around late May or early June. It is our hope that our partner counties will be able to turn the information in these reports into positive change for the homeless individuals in their county.

A special thanks to any and all who participated in the counts throughout the Bay Area. We couldn’t have done it without you. 

If you have any questions about ASR’s homeless projects, please contact Peter Connery at 831-728-1356 or

Exciting Opportunity to Benefit Youth

ASR would like to share the opportunity to attend an event aimed at helping children mitigate the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences as well as introduce new methods to help youth. There will be two days of events, the first on Friday December 12th and the second on Saturday December 13th. If you'd like to attend, visit their website here. This is an exciting opportunity and Derek Peterson is a great speaker and facilitator and we hope to see you there!

CAP Community Heroes

At the 2014 Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project release, heroes from the community were recognized for their contributions to Santa Cruz County. For their continued work with individuals experiencing homelessness, the United Way honored Project Homeless Connect (PHC) and its Steering Committee for their continued work to connect individuals experiencing homelessness with service providers to access to a wide variety of services. Since 2010, PHC has served thousands of individuals and in 2014, for the first time ever, expanded the annual project to a second event in Watsonville.

ASR was particularly excited to see the successes of Project Homeless Connect recognized, as our own Peter Connery is on the Steering Committee. We applaud Peter and the Steering Committee for their tireless efforts to help individuals experiencing homelessness.

To learn more about PHC, visit their website at

Community Assessment Project 2014

On Monday, ASR celebrated the Santa Cruz County release of its 20th annual Community Assessment Project (CAP) at Cabrillo College. Speakers, including Craig Haney and Gary Griggs from UCSC and MariaElena De La Garze of the Community Action Board, presented findings from the various sections of the comprehensive CAP report. Following the presentation, community heroes were recognized with certificates from Congress, the State Legislature and the County Board of Supervisors. The Santa Crurz County CAP is the 2nd longest running community assessment project in the nation and provides an unparalleled look at the status and history of Santa Cruz.

Some of the findings from this year’s CAP include:

  • Median sale price of homes increased to $535,000 in 2014
  • Unemployment has been decreased over the last 3 years and was 6.8% as of June 2014
  • 72% of Latino survey respondents reported being obese, compared to 58% of white respondents
  • The crime rate decreased from 39.7 per 1,000 residents in 2007 to 34.3 in 2014
  • The number of certified organic farmers has increased by 61% since 2006.

If you’d like to view the comprehensive report, visit our website at

Data to Action, Part 4

What is the Impact of the Great Recession on Children? 

It's big! The Great Recession that began in 2008 and the following aftermath are having an extraordinary impact on America’s children, an impact comparable to that of the Great Depression on the children who grew up during the 1930s. The cohort of children who were born in 2008-2009 is the first to have lived their entire short lives under this economic shadow. 

Recent research shows that the economic climate has taken, and continues to take, a measurable toll on these children and their families. In fact, some research indicates that parents don't need to be experiencing actual economic hardship to be stressed and anxious about the economic climate. Then these anxious parents pass the stress along to their children, who then exhibit higher behavioral problems and lower achievement.  

When ASR conducted school readiness assessments of kindergarteners in one affluent California County in 2013, we saw lower scores in self-regulation (things like controlling impulses, following directions, negotiating solutions, playing cooperatively, handling frustration), than we had in prior years. We then looked into research around the country about children whose parents were experiencing a direct economic hit and children with parents who were just anxious about the economy. Even among children whose parents were just worried about the economy, there was higher child anxiety, more trouble getting along with others, and children were more withdrawn.  

Check out more of the research from this link

How are children in your community doing? For more information, or to conduct a school readiness assessment, please contact Jennifer Van Stelle

Data to Action, Part 3

Marin County is Putting Data to Action for Low Income and Diverse Students


How does one community work together to close the achievement gap of low-income students and students of color?

Data based community conversations.

Preschools, after school programs, school sites, and community partners in Marin County are all working together in nine elementary schools on a five year initiative called Pre K to 3: Promoting Early School Success. The goal is to make sure children have:

  • A high quality culturally competent early education
  • Excellent teachers
  • Strong engagement from family members.

ASR is tracking the success of the initiative by conducting school readiness assessments of incoming kindergarteners for three years in a row. We conduct these assessments because we know that children who have early learning skills when they enter kindergarten are more likely to graduate with a high school diploma, are more successful in their careers, and are less likely to be involved in crime and drugs.[1] That’s why ASR has assessed over 50,000 children for their readiness for kindergarten over the last decade.

This year, ASR used the data from the assessments to:

  1. Facilitate discussions with elementary school principals, kindergarten teachers, preschool directors, afterschool program staff, CBO partners, and parents to brainstorm new ideas.
  2. At one site, where children’s self-regulation was of concern, preschool staff and kindergarten teachers agreed to a “shadowing” arrangement to better understand their respective classrooms and to improve the “hand-off” from preschool to kindergarten. 
  3. At another site, participants discussed how to increase the preschool slots so that more children would have a high quality preschool experience. 

In other communities, ASR has used the assessment data…

  • To guide how teachers work with their new kindergarten students.
  • To support parents in helping their children develop the skills they need to be ready for school.
  • To help school districts and preschool programs to strengthen their programming.

The Pre K to 3 Initiative is funded by the Marin Community Foundation and the Haas Fund. For more information, please contact Jen Van Stelle at 408-247-8319.


[1] Rolnick, A., & Grunewald, R.  (2003). Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return. Big Ideas for Children. First Focus, Washington, DC.

Data to Action, Part 2

Last week we introduced the first part in an ongoing series highlighting communities who successfully translated data to action. Now we continue the series with two stories, one a First 5 Commission working on behalf of children ages 0-5 and a second on County Drug and Alcohol Department.

How Does First 5 Benefit from a Community Assessment Project?


According to Vicki Boriak, Program Officer for First 5 Santa Cruz County, they use the Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project to:

  1. Look at the strengths and the gaps in well-being for children ages 0-5 and then create a strategic plan in light of those factors.
  2. Guide First 5’s own program priorities.
  3. Guide how First 5 makes grants to partner agencies.
  4. Track how well their funded programs are doing.
  5. Apply for and receive foundation grants, especially in the area of providing and improving child care for infants and toddlers.
  6. Write articles about children’s health and well-being.


You can access the Santa Cruz County Community Assessment, now in its 20th year on ASR’s website. The 20th edition of the report will be released in November, so stay tuned! To be in contact with First 5 Santa Cruz County, please click here.


Santa Cruz County Alcohol and Drug Services Department Uses Community Assessment Data to Turn the Curve on Substance Abuse and Change their Strategies


“Adding one more bar or one more liquor store on a block, increases the chances of violence on that block,” according to Brenda Armstrong, Prevention Program Manager at Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (HSA). Ms. Armstrong is citing data from a study in Cleveland that found that adding one bar to a block would result in 3.38 more crimes committed on that block in a year.[1]

Ms. Armstrong is drawing on extensive research showing that people who have more access to liquor stores and bars are more likely to consume higher levels of alcohol, resulting in more violent crimes, such as murder, rape, and assault in addition to child maltreatment and child abuse.[2]


The increase in violent crime due to alcohol outlets is one reason why the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency, Alcohol and Drug Program is tracking the number of alcohol outlets in a region, through the Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project (CAP). The CAP also tracks the community perceptions about providing alcohol to underage youth, community acceptance of marijuana use, the use of prescription drugs, binge drinking, crime, and substance use by students and adults. County staff have analyzed the CAP data over time, and seen that some initial interventions to reduce youth drug and alcohol use worked very well, but after several years of focusing instead on community education about underage use, the numbers started to flatten or get worse again. This caused the department to change their strategies.


Instead of maintaining a primary focus on community education, staff of the Alcohol and Drug Services Department of Santa Cruz County applied for and received a federal grant to track crime and its connections with alcohol outlets in the city of Watsonville, and to conduct focus groups in neighborhoods to see how individuals and families are experiencing those issues. The County is pursuing solutions such as Conditioned Use Permits, where limits are placed around new alcohol licenses, hours of operations, training, and not selling alcohol pops or 40 ounce malt liquor. The Department is also considering a “Deemed Approve Ordinance” where new conditions may be placed on an outlet that already has an alcohol license but has violated their license. For more information, please contact Brenda Armstrong at


[1] U.S. Department of Justice, 2006. Alcohol and Violent Crime, What is the Connection? What Can Be Done? Retrieved at


[2] Pereira, G., Wood, L., Foster, S., & Haggar, F. (2013). Access to alcohol outlets, alcohol consumption and mental health. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53461. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053461; and Gruenewald et al. (1995). Ecological models of alcohol outlets and violent assaults: crime potentials and geospatial analysis. Society for the Study of Addiction, 2006.

Moving Data to Action

Data to Action Series: Part 1 

ASR Helping Partners to Move from Data to Action

ASR’s mission is to help partners build better communities. Our partners have asked us for more help with how to move from data to action. This e-news focuses on how some of our partners have taken Community Assessment data and made changes in their communities. ASR believes that to move from data to action, you need:

  1.        Good quality reliable data
  2.        Strong leadership
  3.        A focus on results
  4.        A sustainability plan
  5.        Align program efforts with community efforts

The 5 Steps of ASR’s Community Assessment Model

ASR has designed a 5 step process to conduct our Community Assessments, Needs Assessments, and Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA). Check out the visual below and follow along when your community !


What are 8 Things You Can Do with Your Community Assessment Project Data?


San Luis Obispo County has used their Community Assessment data which is known as Community Vital Signs: Understanding San Luis Obispo County to:


  1. Create more after school programs for children.
  2. Create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to provide loans to build more affordable housing units.
  3. Support funding for a low cost dental clinic.
  4. Support case management for individuals who were previously homeless and are now housed.
  5. Create a day-long conference about seniors which led to the creation of “Good Neighbors”-a program to match volunteers with seniors to help combat isolation and help seniors accomplish some necessary daily tasks.
  6. Launch town halls about how much alcohol youth were drinking as compared to parental perception of their drinking—a big disconnect. These conversations led to action, and now alcohol use is down for youth.
  7. Set grant making and program priorities for the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County, as well as many agencies, and non-profit organizations.
  8. Add new questions to the community assessment telephone survey to know how residents are using parks, recreation, walking and biking trails in order to improve the built environment. 


The community assessment project is overseen by ACTION for Healthy Communities, a collaborative of individual agencies and public and private organizations committed to improving the overall quality of life in San Luis Obispo County. For the last 15 years, ASR has collected the data for the reports. Please visit the website to access the reports at: contact Abbie Stevens at ASR: 831-728-1356 or