How do we measure global homelessness?

by | May 25, 2023 | Formation, Vincentian Family at the U.N.

Access to quality data is essential in addressing the challenge of homelessness. Quality data allows policymakers, government officials with oversight of homelessness programs, and homeless services and housing providers to make informed decisions by identifying trends and demographics, measuring the success of interventions, and allocating resources.

Currently, the best global homeless data available is from a 2001 United Nations estimate, suggesting that between 100 and 150 million people around the world are homeless. IGH’s Better Data Project indicates that only 44 countries publicly report homelessness data and only 12% have reported since 2017.

The lack of standardized, quality data on homelessness leaves a critical gap in the existing discourse on national, regional, and global homelessness.

Recent United Nations resolutions make explicit the call for Member States “to collect disaggregated data on demographics related to homelessness and establish categories of homelessness, accompanying the existing measurement tools, and encourages Member States to harmonize the measurement and collection of data on homelessness to enable national and global policymaking.”

At IGH, we believe that we must see homelessness through data in order to solve it.

But how should countries and communities gather data and statistics on homelessness? We provide the following high-level recommendations.

  1. Countries and communities should set a clear and inclusive definition of homelessness that encompasses people living on the streets or in places not meant for human habitation, people living in temporary or crisis accommodation, and people living in inadequate or insecure housing.
  2. At least once a year, countries and communities should enumerate the number of people who experience homelessness according to their definition and publicly report numbers and trends.
  3. Countries and communities should select the enumeration methodology that is best for their context/capacity, using a combination of methodologies such as:
  • Administrative data
  • Registry weeks/By-name lists
  • Point-in-time counts
  • Service-based sampling
  • Censuses
  1. Specific demographic information should be collected, to better understand and thus develop more effective policies and programs. This information should include: sex, age, type of household, geographic location, the length of time a person has been homelessness, health status, income, race, ethnicity, migratory status, causes of a person’s homelessness, and other relevant characteristics.
  2. Data consent, security, and privacy should factor centrally into any data strategy.
  3. Data Quality Management policies and procedures should be in place to ensure the accuracy and quality of the information.

As more communities and countries adopt these practices, we will move forward on the journey towards comprehensive, quality data on global homelessness.

Lydia Stazen, Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness, a joint initiative of Depaul International and DePaul University