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Could a New Data System ‘Solve’ Scotland’s Homelessness Issue?

Sinead Donnelly


A clearer, data-driven picture of the issue is critical in the path towards becoming a nation free from homelessness, according to the Centre for Homelessness Impact.

A report has been launched that sets out the options available for a new system aiming to track every homeless person in Scotland.

The Centre for Homelessness Impact’s options appraisal outlines the work it has carried out for the Scottish Government for the national data and monitoring system.

The centre was invited to provide recommendations from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) to support the Government.

By following engagement with those working to end homelessness in Scotland, the report puts forward a series of options for the new homelessness system.

Director of the centre, Dr Ligia Teixeira, said: “As an organisation, the centre believes strongly that homelessness is an issue that can be solved, and that more reliable and actionable data and evidence will power society’s progress towards that end.

“A clearer, data-driven picture of the issue is a critical piece in the wider puzzle of Scotland’s path towards becoming a nation free from homelessness. A new national data system could help significantly with ongoing efforts by improving our understanding of the scope of the challenge and assess progress on a daily basis.”

The system will also make the data publicly available, which could work as an incentive for local areas in reducing homelessness. It is also hoped that it will connect the homeless more effectively with the support they need.

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Teixeira highlighted that the “systemic causes of homelessness” must be treated, stating that a literature review of similar systems across the globe and meetings with a panel of national and international experts were conducted as part of the options appraisal.

Future users of a data collection system for homelessness in Scotland were also consulted. These included front-line workers, service providers, local authority service commissioners, people with experiences of homelessness, data analysts, system administrators and volunteers.

The centre emphasised that the current count for street homelessness in Scotland is based solely on local authority data returns, meaning that only those who approach their local authority will be counted.

In addition, the data that is currently collected cannot convey a meaningful understanding of how resources are being used and what the impact of homelessness efforts are.

The Centre for Homelessness Impact’s objective was to gain a detailed understanding of the various perspectives, challenges, needs, behaviours and motivations that any data collection system must address.

Teixeira added: “A significant part of this process has been to collectively figure out what questions we need this data collection to answer, what direction we want it to take us in, and what success looks like.

“The big promise of the new data system extends beyond its ability to help outreach workers in the moment or track levels across local areas over time. The data should also help us to proactively design fixes to problems we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. And It should be used to assess how effective different services are at keeping people off the streets. Above all else, it should help us keep our eye on the real goal: delivering permanent and sustained exits from homelessness.”

She added that the centre looks forward to when the Scottish Government begins to “test, prototype and pilot new approaches to homelessness data collection”.

The centre for Homelessness Impact champions the creation and use of better evidence to tackle homelessness by ensuring that policy, practice and funding decisions are underpinned by reliable evidence.

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Sinead Donnelly


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