Good practice guidelines for monitoring and measuring homelessness

homelessnessSociety doesn’t realise the extent of homelessness and are horrified to read headlines of child poverty and images of people sleeping in the street

Please note that we do not provide housing or shelter. These guidelines are our introduction to Society of the extent and depth of the problem so that Governments can develop tools and resources to address this in a cost effective manner.

Jane's Team in dealing with Victims of Domestic Violence understand that although the Victims and their children do live in a house they are in insecure housing, threatened with expulsion at any time and are unsafe. This means to us that they need to be categorised as homeless. They have no other place to go.

For many years various government and non-government organisations have attempted to count the homeless in every country. Due to the lack of a coordinated approach many are counted twice and some are not counted at all.

Many people avoid being counted due to several concerns ranging from safety of the children possibly being taken away to the stigma of being labelled. In our modern society the person or family who has ‘no fixed address’ is seen to be not ‘normal’. Homeless people are almost totally reliant on welfare. They do not deliberately choose to be in this situation.

Many victims of domestic violence or simply those who due to age or other reason have no job and no regular income are not able to rent and some rely on friends and family to help. The problem is that homelessness needs standards to help define the problem and as part of our Safe Centre program, our research team has developed “Good Practice Guidelines.

Jane’s Team methodology always researches and identifies problems before providing a solution by combining the best ideas and widening the research to identify every situation. The first step has been to prepare a paper on good practice guidelines for setting up documentation systems in order to measure and monitor this condition.

Collecting data through documentation systems is useful for monitoring trends in, and profiles of homeless people in order to develop appropriate policies to tackle to improve homeless services so that the main beneficiaries of any documentation system are always the service users themselves. It is crucial to remember that data collection is about real people, not just numbers.

 Good practice guidelines

These guidelines apply especially to Government organisations but are also relevant, to a certain extent, for individual non-government organisations

Guideline 1:

Develop a comprehensive typology on the basis of which the target population for data collection would be selected

Many politicians, policy makers and journalists think of homeless people as being single males sleeping rough. Those working in the sector know that many more people live in vulnerable situations than appear on the streets are at risk of becoming homeless.

See the table below which is a housing‑based definition that uses the housing social and legal domains to create a broad typology of homelessness and housing exclusion. It classifies homeless people according to their living situation: roofless (without a shelter of any kind, sleeping rough), houseless (with a place to sleep but temporary in institutions or shelter), living in insecure housing (threatened with severe exclusion due to insecure tenancies, eviction, and domestic violence), living in inadequate housing (in caravans on illegal campsites, in unfit housing, in extreme overcrowding).

Different target groups (children, women, men, and older people from different ethnic or immigrant populations and with different disabilities / difficulties) can come under one or more of these categories.

Even where there are obstacles to collecting data on all categories, all reporters should strive to obtain data on all these forms of homelessness and housing exclusion for ideological and political reasons.

 Guideline 2:

Draw up a classification of organisations and bodies providing services to the target population.

It is useful here to develop a classification of services and service providers through the three following steps:

Step 1

Developing a typology of generic services which Jane’s Team refer to as “Service Enriched Housing” such as: Support services; Day centres; Outreach/ street services; Medical services; Library and Resources Centres as part of adults and child education; Employment services,  Housing services, etc./. The location of such services to work opportunities particularly if commuting distance, or cost is a negative factor.

Step 2

To identify which service providers are most relevant to data collection on homelessness. (since some services cater for other target populations than homeless people)

Step 3

To develop a classification of services relevant to data collection (thereby identifying the structural factors which will influence their data collection capacities) such as:

  • Service Provider classification:
    • Statutory bodies, church based organisations, non‑profit or other charitable bodies
  • Level of organisation:
    • Local, Regional, National, International bodies

 Guideline 3:

It is important to identify the beneficiaries of the system and the level of use/collection of data.

Item 1

Establish clearly who are to be the beneficiaries of the data collection system. Drivers for the system should be individual clients, and project workers rather than funding agencies.

Item 2

First and foremost, the system has to benefit service users (to support service delivery, service quality for the individual clients). All clients should have the right to access the documentation system, and the right to change their personal/needs data if in disagreement.

Item 3

The data collection system has to be of benefit to service providers, to monitor progress of service users, for organisational purposes (annual reports, statistics), for project monitoring (effectiveness of services, sending anonymous and aggregate data to public authorities, etc.).

Item 4

Level of use: The documentation system to monitor homelessness can be set up at different levels (to be used internally or by different agencies), for example:

  • A local service provider collecting data on different projects for own organisational purposes
  • A local/regional authority monitoring  the local area, and  coordinating documentation system involving local/regional service providers. A national umbrella organisation of service providers monitoring  at national level.

Item 5

Users of the system: the database should be designed to ensure that it is simple to input data and that interrogation or queries can be made easily and without additional training or programming. This means that effective standards for private software houses should be established.

 Guideline 4:

The leading body should look into creating and maintaining (i.e. regularly update) a database of such organisations and bodies, who could become providers of data.

Item 1

It is important to review existing systems before drawing up a relational database of data providers. The preparation of a relational database of such organisations at any level indicates the need to retain information on different data elements in a manner that minimises redundancy in data, is capable of efficient updating and allows flexible interrogation. Hence the relational approach links smaller simple tables using common variables rather than constructing a single table or spreadsheet in which data items may be repeated and are difficult to modify.

Item 2

The information collected in this database should be divided into three main elements: Organisational details of the data provider agencies

Item 3

Management arrangements of the data provider agencies (e.g. housing and support providers)

Item 4

Project details of the data provider (target groups, rate of service use, etc.)

Item 5

It is important then to set procedures for creating and updating the information in the database focusing on 4 elements:

Item 6

Management issues (responsibility for the management of the relational database, funding of the database, frequency of input, etc.)

Item 7

IT issues (Web‑management issues, use of Access databases, and use of web interactive database XML)

Item 8

Data items and elements.

Item 9

Data Protection (see guideline 7)

 Guideline 5:

A set of standard register variables for use by the organisations in the database should be determined.

Item 1

It is useful to make a clear distinction between project level information (daily number of persons accommodated, daily number of applications received, number of homeless people turned away from the service, etc.) and user information (gender, age group, family status, etc.). A set of standard register variables focusing on user information can be determined for data collection. This data can then be anonymised and used to gather project level/performance information. Nevertheless a top level secure centralised database by the Government should be considered to allow information sharing within agencies to prevent duplication of benefits and identity verification etc. Access to such central data absolutely limited to secured Government personnel.(see Guideline 6)

Item 2

Method for selecting the variables for use by data providers

Item 3

Set out the policy purposes for which the data on homelessness is needed (immigration, housing, health, etc.)

Item 4

Set out principles for selection of variables, including the importance of data anonymity (in conformity with data protection laws), the importance of avoiding double counting (through the use of a unique identifier), guidelines on the selection of appropriate variables relevant to the service provider/ service user

Item 5

Examine issues of organisational effectiveness i.e. ensuring that the burden is not onerous, ensuring training of staff, ensuring supervision/ quality of data issues

Item 6

Relevant base‑line standard variables (relevant for both the service user and the user of the documentation system) could include the following:

  1. Primary: key profiling variables
    1. Demographic variables
    2. Age
    3. Gender
  • Family status (number of dependent adults/ children)
  1. Ethnic status/cultural (national) minority/ country of origin
  2. Economic status (employed, unemployed) together with employment history.
  3. Educational attainment
  • Citizenship
  • Structure of household
  1. Secondary: key service variables
    1. Housing/living situation variables
    2. Total length of time in homeless situation (start/end of service intervention)
    3. Current accommodation/ Living situation
  • Main reason for loss of last settled home Support Needs
  1. Primary housing needs
  2. Primary support needs
  3. Primary medical needs (physical needs, mental health needs, addiction) Service variables
  1. Referral Agency/Direct Application

 Guideline 6:

Create conditions for effective and sound interagency information sharing

The data collection system will be different if aimed at information sharing with other agencies or if just internal to the organisation (interagency data collection is different to individual organisation data collection). Interagency sharing of client records should be exclusively restricted to the local level. In this case:

Item 1

Data protection issues/legislation should be examined in depth.

Item 2

There should be a balance between appropriate access and confidentiality of the data.

Item 3

The database should preserve integrity of data ‑ anonymity, etc.

Item 4

The system should aim to be a relational database

  1. There should be a unique identifier ‑ to match data across different systems (in the case of interagency systems).
  2. Avoiding duplication of information, allowing for easy updating of elements without changing the whole system and ensuring that data quality is built in the system with automatic checks.
  3. Quality of the data at input level is crucial ‑ all staff members collecting the data should be trained in this respect and the system used should include validation checks.
  4. It is important to set up a general help‑line system for database users in case of any IT problems, etc.

Guideline 7:

Ensure a data protected system of collection of aggregate statistical client data on regional and national levels

Any system of collection of aggregate statistical client data on a regional or national level has to be set up according to national laws of data protection. Person‑related data may only be processed for specific aims and with the consent of the clients.

Ideally, methods should be established for undertaking collection of aggregate data from the documentation systems:

Item 1

It should be possible to cross‑tabulate, cross‑reference data

Item 2

Careful selection of a software house is needed (also taking into account development costs, additional equipment, internet connections)

Item 3

The software for the regional or national aggregation of the data should be able to process local aggregated data sets from different software packages to ensure maximum participation

 Homelessness is one of the main societal problems. The prevention of this, or the re‑housing of homeless people requires an understanding of the pathways and processes that lead there and hence a broad perception of the real meaning to people and the society.

Usually the definition of a home doesn’t take into consideration all elements such as size of rooms or number of persons or facilities etc. Jane’s Team begins with the conceptual understanding that there are three domains [physical, social and legal] which constitute a "home", the absence of which can be taken to delineate homelessness. Having a home can then be understood as:

  • having an adequate dwelling (or space) over which a person and his/her family can exercise exclusive possession (physical domain);
  • being able to maintain privacy and enjoy relations (social domain) and having a legal title to occupation (legal domain).
  • "Homeless" means that a person is homeless if he or she does not have access to safe, secure and stable housing. Hence even if a person has a physical home, they would be considered homeless if: - They were not safe at home; or - They had no legal right to continue occupation of their home (security of tenure); or - The home lacked the amenities or resources necessary for living.

This leads to the 6 main concepts: Rooflessness, Houselessness, Insecure and Inadequate Housing, Financial and Affordability all of which can be taken to indicate the absence of a home. Jane’s Team therefore classifies people who are homeless according to their living or "home" situation. These conceptual categories are divided into 20 operational categories that can be used for different policy purposes such as mapping of the problem of homelessness, developing, monitoring and evaluating policies.

Housing Inspection Form

This “good practice guideline” requires a Housing inspection form and together with how to use methodology. Jane's Team can make this available.


Category Chart Homelessness and Housing Exclusion

Conceptual Category   Operational Category   Generic Definition
ROOFLESS 1 People Living Rough 1.10 Rough Sleeping (no access to 24-hour accommodation) or no abode
  2 People staying in a night shelter 2.10 Overnight shelter
HOUSELESS 3 People in accommodation for the homeless 3.10 Homeless hostel
    3.20 Temporary Accommodation
  4 People in Shelter 4.10 Men/Women's shelter accommodation
  5 People in accommodation for immigrants 5.10 Temporary accommodation [detention centres]
    5.20 Migrant workers accommodation
  6 People due to be released from institutions 6.10 Penal institutions
    6.20 Medical institutions
  7 People receiving support [due to homelessness] 7.10 Residential care for homeless people
    7.20 Supported accommodation
    7.30 Transitional accommodation with support
    7.40 Accommodation with support
INSECURE 8 People living in insecure accommodation 8.10 Domestic Violence Victims; Temporarily with family/friends
    8.20 Not legal (sub-tenancy)
    8.30 Illegal occupation of building
    8.40 Illegal occupation of land
  9 People living under threat of eviction 9.10 Legal orders enforced (rented)
    9.20 Repossession orders (owned)
    9.3 Landlords seek increase in rents forced evictions
  10 People living under threat of violence 10.10 Police recorded incidents of domestic violence
INADEQUATE 11 People living in temporary non-standard structures 11.10 Mobile home / caravan
    11.20 Non-standard building as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics
    11.30 Temporary structure
  12 People living in unfit housing 12.10 Unfit for habitation (under national or state standards or legislation, occupied
  13 People living in extreme overcrowding 13.10 Highest national norm of overcrowding.
FINANCIAL EXCLUSION 14 Economic stress. Prices exceed 30% of income 14.10 Unable to pay high rent charges.
    14.20 Unable to meet mortgage payments and lose home
    14.30 Government charges or fees
  15 Redevelopment 15.10 Caravan ‘parks’ being sold for development. Long term tenants left with nowhere to go
    15.20 Relocating welfare housing to remote suburbs to allow development
    15.30 Rental properties unavailable at any price. Prospective tenants in bidding battle increase rents.
AFFORDABILITY? 16 Design 16.10 Range of homes limited to large and expensive designs.
  17 Land 17.10 Instead of services provided by government land developers provide roads, services etc. Added value becomes profit burden on buyers
    17.20 Limited release of land increases cost
  18 Regulations 18.10 Current building regulations are complex and costly to investigate [lack of staff] and to comply with.
  19 Ecology 19.10 Increase prices to reduce water usage [water tanks, grey water]
    19.20 Increased insulation. Need to buy expensive light bulbs, turning off appliances
  20 Location 20.10 Increased costs incurred for construction and later in commuting. Many essential services unavailable [shopping, medical, schools etc.]
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DWELLING TYPE Dwelling - any building or structure in which people live.

Separate House - a dwelling with facilities (bathing, toilet & food preparation) that stands in its own grounds and is separated from other dwellings by at least half a metre.

Semi-Detached House - also known as or including duplex dwellings with facilities on their own grounds and no other dwellings above or below.

Flat, Unit or Apartment - all dwellings with facilities in blocks of flats, units or apartments.

They do not have their own grounds and usually share a common foyer or stairwell. Includes flats attached to houses, or houses converted into flats.

Hostel - Single Men - dwelling with facilities designated for single men.

Hostel - Single Women - dwelling with facilities designated for single women.

Hostel - Aged Persons - dwelling with facilities designated for aged persons.

Hostel - Other - dwellings with facilities designated for multiple occupancy other than hostels otherwise specified.

Cabin/ Improvised Dwelling - dwellings with less than full facilities as specified for a house, - includes sheds and other improvised dwellings occupying the lot.



It is important to set what is considered to be overcrowding. Many people live in overcrowded conditions. Overcrowding can put stress on facilities inside the home

Overcrowding can be a subjective measure, influenced by cultural norms. People may have different views about what constitutes overcrowding, especially in remote areas; for a number of people, living in large family groupings may be culturally acceptable or non-problematic. People’s capacity to make a choice about their housing situation can be constrained by low expectations and lack of choices

The cultural suitability of measures of overcrowding could be examined further through surveys asking people their views on overcrowding and housing preferences; however, the Proxy Occupancy Standard and the Canadian National Occupancy Standard have been recognised as a basic standard to assess overcrowding.

Ways to estimate overcrowding

The Canadian National Occupancy Standard  specifies the number of bedrooms required in a dwelling based on the number, age, sex and relationships of household members. Households that require one more bedroom to meet the standard are considered to experience ‘a moderate degree of overcrowding’, whereas households requiring two or more bedrooms are said to experience a ‘high degree of overcrowding’. The Canadian National Occupancy Standard states that:

  • No more than two people shall share a bedroom
  • Parents or couples may share a bedroom
  • Children under 5 years, either of the same sex or opposite sex may share a bedroom
  • Children under 18 years of the same sex may share a bedroom
  • A child aged 5 to 17 years should not share a bedroom with a child under 5 of the opposite sex
  • Single adults 18 years and over and any unpaired children require a separate bedroom.

Overcrowding Standards are important within the scope of estimating the number and type of dwelling however such standards designed by people who are not homeless without consideration of the cost do not realise that the outcomes may result in an impossible cost to solve homelessness in the short term.

Jane’s Team believes that a homeless person doesn’t have expectations of luxury and step one is to get them into a safe environment. Homeless children with or without a parent are vulnerable and should be prioritised but again stage one housing is always better than say living in a car or sleeping rough

Define the problem, design the solution, and produce outcomes