Hidden homelessness: international evidence review

This report "Exploring Ways of Identifying and Counting Hidden Homeless Populations" presents an overview of the methods used internationally to identify or count people experiencing hidden forms of homelessness and the populations that may be likely to experience it. The report also considers the Scottish context and suggests areas where further research may be useful.

7. Conclusions

This report explored the international evidence base on methods to identify people who are facing or have faced hidden homelessness. It also presented those populations who were described in the literature as potentially at risk of experiencing hidden homelessness and reflected on the barriers for them to be included in homelessness counts. Finally, it assessed the existing evidence base on hidden homelessness enumeration methods and reflected on gaps and limitations. From this, several insights have emerged:

  • There is a wide variety of methods and strategies used internationally to identify and count people experiencing homelessness. This is closely related to each country's laws and policies on homelessness.
  • The definition and framework of rights for people experiencing homelessness used locally is tied to service provision and is central to understanding who is included and who might be missing from counts. The more inclusive these are of circumstances beyond rooflessness, the more likely it is that counts will include people otherwise experiencing hidden homelessness.
  • Methods that rely on the physical visibility of those experiencing homelessness, like night counts and capture/re-capture methods, are less likely to identify and count those in hidden homelessness. This includes people who conceal themselves while sleeping rough and people who are not sleeping rough (sofa surfing, in overcrowded accommodation or any alternative arrangement), which evidence suggests is often the larger proportion of those experiencing homelessness.
  • Methods that rely on service providers to count people experiencing homelessness, like community services or local authorities, benefit from longer periods of data collection to identify and count those that might only occasionally reach out to support services. Evidence pointed out that the wider the variety of services participating in the count, the more likely it is to reach people experiencing hidden homelessness. Nevertheless, these types of counts can undercount people experiencing homelessness that do not approach support services or local authorities.
  • The use of administrative data or public records as secondary sources needs careful consideration to avoid inadvertently excluding those that might not engage with the service from which the records are pulled. That being said, a study that used health records in Scotland has showed promising results on the identification of people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness (See section 4.2.1).
  • The use of the national census as an opportunity for data collection on (hidden) homelessness has proven to be a successful way to estimate prevalence of homelessness at the time of a census in other countries. Actively including people experiencing homelessness in the national census also has the potential to increase its coverage and improve its overall data quality. However, given that national census only takes place every 10 years, it can only be considered as an in addition to other more regular forms of data collection on homelessness.
  • The evidence reviewed suggests that because (hidden) homelessness is a complex and fluid phenomenon the triangulation of methods (including primary and secondary data collection) and mixed methods (including qualitative and quantitative) can assist to better capture its complexity and identify those experiencing it that might otherwise be missed. There may be value in conducting additional less frequent in-depth data collection to identify and count specific hidden homeless populations in Scotland and shape service provision accordingly. This would act as complementary to the ongoing statistics data collection.
  • Research involving people with lived experience of hidden homelessness in Scotland might provide insights on the specific pathways that lead to hidden forms of homelessness here.
  • The population groups described as experiencing hidden homelessness in the literature are not exclusive. Characteristics and experiences are intersectional and this needs to be considered when designing enumeration procedures.
  • Fears of institutionalisation and discrimination may deter some people- especially those in more vulnerable circumstances- from presenting to local authorities for help or accessing support services. This was mentioned with regards to women in situations of domestic abuse, minority ethnic people, underage young people, LGBTI people and refugees and asylum seekers.
  • More information is needed to understand the experiences of homelessness of minority ethnic people in Scotland that actualises and expands on work carried out in 2004. It would also be relevant to have a smaller piece of research to understand if overcrowding is a form of hidden homelessness experienced by minority ethnic communities to avoid being roofless in Scotland.

7.1 Ongoing and future work

The Scottish Government is currently in the process of commissioning research into the lived experience of people who have or are experiencing hidden homelessness, are at imminent risk of homelessness or who face housing insecurity, but do not appear in Scotland's official figures to understand their experiences and pathways. An improved understanding of the different routes into and out of homelessness and hidden homelessness will help us address gaps in provision and make Scotland's homelessness system more responsive to people's needs.

The Scottish Government is currently undertaking a review of their homelessness data collection. This review aims to improve the data collection process conducted by local authorities as part of their delivery of their statutory duties around homelessness and homelessness prevention.

The Scottish Government is also working closely with the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to make sure our work is complimentary with their ongoing work on the topic of hidden homelessness.

Ongoing work within the ONS is aimed at improving the coverage of hard-to-reach population groups, including hidden homelessness, in UK data and evidence. Research is currently being conducted to explore the development of a methodology for identifying and counting women experiencing hidden homelessness across the UK. Subject to available funding, future research will likely involve piloting this methodology across the four UK nations.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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