The simplicity of this question hides a multitude of issues. What do we mean by homelessness? Visible homelessness, hidden homelessness, homeless women, youth, Indigenous people? Apart from chronic homelessness, should we include situations at risk of homelessness? What method should be used? What do we wish to do with the information obtained?
Which particular methods should be used to paint a picture of homelessness?
This literature synthesis focused on the surveillance and monitoring of homelessness beyond mere numbers, and on the methods used to paint a picture of homelessness. Several societies have developed strategies for measuring and understanding homelessness. These strategies seek to better grasp the quantitative and qualitative evolution of homelessness and to identify its determinants, in order to support decisions regarding the most appropriate policies, services and practices.
This interpretative synthesis considered a variety of sources and examined both quantitative and qualitative data. The diversity of literature on methodological strategies led to the exploration of initiatives for primary data production and secondary data use. The analysis revealed five strategies implemented to better understand the phenomenon of homelessness: a. inventory of shelter attendance; b. street counts; c. investigations of individual and collective factors; d. mixed approaches; e. investigations of specific themes.
The synthesis included English and French documents published between 2000 and 2017 in scientific journals, articles, studies and reports produced outside the scientific community, in North America, Europe and Australia, i.e. countries where significant efforts have been made to implement comprehensive policies or actions on homelessness. The literature showed no consensus establishing the superiority of one strategy over all others. In fact, the strategies used to better understand homelessness are diverse, responding to specific needs and applying to contexts with an assortment of issues and challenges. However, the complementary nature of several strategies appears to be a promising avenue that seeks to reconcile multiple data sources, needs and interests on local, regional and national levels.
Roch Hurtubise, Université de Sherbrooke
Deposit of the research report: October 2017