Undermining Understanding: The Reclassification of Homelessness

Published: 11.01.2019


In 2018 some 1,600 people were removed from the official homelessness figures following a reclassification exercise. In this blog post, Research & Policy Analyst Wayne Stanley examines the impact of this reclassification.

At the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government on the 8th November 2018 there was discussion as to whether the families removed from the homeless numbers were in fact homeless with clear disagreement between the Department of Housing officials and the Local Authority officials in attendance. In the hearing it was noted that a feature of the reclassification was the absence of external consultation in contrast to the collaborative stakeholder process that had developed the original reporting systems.

That said there was also a clear consensus that accurate and consistent information is important in understanding and addressing homelessness. Personally, and I think for everyone working in the area, this is a welcome consensus. While much of the discussion of the reclassification has focused on whether it was an effort to keep numbers down, the more pertinent discussion for those of us working in the area is that excluding these families from the official numbers can work to undermine our efforts to address homelessness.

It does this by limiting our understanding of the structural forces impacting homelessness. At the outset, it is important to highlight that the monthly point-in-time figures, taken on their own, give only an indicative view of how we are doing on homelessness, the direction of travel.

it is important to highlight that the monthly point-in-time figures, taken on their own, give only an indicative view of how we are doing on homelessness, the direction of travel.

However, their importance is amplified in the context of the interaction with other data sources such as the number of families entering homelessness each month, monthly exit data and qualitative data.

It will be noted that I am writing predominantly about the Dublin region. This is due to the fact , thanks to the efforts of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and Dublin City Council Housing SPC (Strategic Policy Committee) members, that this is where the data is most regularly reported but the points made are relevant to all regional areas.

Dublin Reclassification

In the reclassification undertaken in the Dublin region, illustrated in figure 1 below, a total of 236 families were removed from the homeless figures in three tranches, 26 families in March, 67 in April and 145 in September. In the October report to the Dublin City Council housing SPC, the DRHE reported that 210 families were in ‘own door’ accommodation suggesting that in the months since the first tranche of families were reclassified, 26 families had secured move-on or the temporary arrangements they were in were transferred to permanent tenancies.

In response to a question by Councillor Patrick Costello in November, the number of reclassified families had risen to 220 in October; an increase of 10.

Figure 1. The number of families recorded in all forms of homeless accommodation in the Dublin Region.

 

This increase between September and October in the number of families in reclassified units shows that the number of ‘reclassified’ families is fluid, with families moving in and out rather than a pool of families who have been reclassified that are being supported to find permanent accommodation. This has been confirmed as it is now clear that many of the units reclassified are ‘transitional accommodation’ where families are limited in the amount of time that they can stay.

Layering

Fundamental to understanding homelessness is our capacity to understand the fluid nature of it. The level of homelessness is affected both by the housing system and by the interventions and supports that are put in place to address it.

Fundamental to understanding homelessness is our capacity to understand the fluid nature of it. The level of homelessness is affected both by the housing system and by the interventions and supports that are put in place to address it.

Prior to reclassification, with allowances for the limits of this data, on a monthly basis we would have a clear picture of the movement in family homelessness.

We also have important Qualitative research, such as the Insights series conducted by Focus Ireland and available to read here. Qualitative research is invaluable to understand the complexity of homelessness but to test the findings of such research it has to be compared and verified against the quantitative information that is available.

This comparing and layering of research gives us a multi-dimensional picture of homelessness allowing us to critically monitor and engage with all stakeholders on the effectiveness or otherwise of policy interventions.

Conclusion

The reclassification of families from the homeless figure is working to undermine the ability of the available data to increase our understanding of homelessness. Through creating a second tier of homelessness based on the quality of the emergency accommodation some of the dynamics of families’ homelessness can be hidden from us. In that case these instances of reclassification weaken our capacity to provide the best policy responses to homelessness. The unilateral nature of the action is also a worrying precedent.

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Tags: Challenges, Latest Figures, Policy

Author: Wayne Stanley

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