Town and Regional Planning has had a longstanding engagement with the assessment and development of aspects of housing policy, especially with regard to homelessness, as a direct result of the creation of the Joint Centre for Scottish Housing Research with the University of St Andrews in the early 1990s, participation in the European Observatory on Homelessness, and the management of a number of major research projects. This involvement extends from Scottish, throughUK, to EU policy monitoring and evaluation, which in respect of research into homelessness has attracted considerable funding, most recently through the MPHASIS (Measuring Progress on Homelessness through Advancing and Strengthening Information Systems) Project which ran from December 2007 to December 2009, and was funded through the EU PROGRSS programme.
The main objective of MPHASIS was to improve monitoring of homelessness and of homeless policies in 20 European countries in a coordinated manner on the basis of the recommendations of the Measurement of Homelessness at European Union Level study (Edgar,Harrison, Watson and Busch-Geertsema, 2007). The project involved two main strands of action:
a) Implementation and dissemination of the recommendations of the Measurement of Homelessness research. This strand involved the organisation of national meetings in each of the participating European countries and an EU level conference towards the end of the project. A national co-ordinator in each country assisted the Project Co-ordinators in arranging the national meetings which were attended by key stakeholders and experts in the field.
b) Action-oriented research to examine in detail the issues involved in implementing some of the key recommendations of the earlier research at national level. The research examined the transferability of good practice in relation to Service Providers Databases and Client Record Systems to EU member states in a manner that would facilitate the national aggregation of data on the users of homeless services; the transferability of good practice on the use of Administrative Data or Survey Data to EU member states; and the feasibility of harmonising the operational data definition of the Core Variables recommended in the Measuring Homelessness study.
The MPHASIS project was part of an on-going process of putting the issue of homelessness onto the EU agenda acrossEurope. From a position ten years ago when homelessness was seen by many policy makers as too sensitive an issue to confront, interest in data collection on homelessness has grown and this project demonstrated a desire for more EU cooperation in order to tackle homelessness as part of the social protection and social inclusion agenda.
MPHASIS made a significant contribution to building capacity in measuring homelessness through the dissemination strand of the project. Networks of key stakeholders were created, involving not only people with a responsibility for data collection but also policy makers and service providers. At national level, MPHASIS provided a mechanism for bringing national and local government departments and agencies together with NGOS in the sector in some cases for the very first time. The inclusion of stakeholders from national statistical agencies was particularly significant. Examination of the outcome statements from the national meetings demonstrates that in many countries the decision was taken to continue the momentum of the meeting either with follow-up meetings or exploration of the establishment of a working group to take forward proposed actions. The national co-ordinator for Ireland described the impact of MPHASIS as follows:
“The MPHASIS project provided a focus on the importance of data and information systems in aiding our understanding of homelessness and enumeration of homelessness. As we mentioned in our presentation at the conference, it was also useful and timely in the context of our work relating to the development of policy to address homelessness, particularly in relation to our development of a detailed Implementation Plan for the National Homeless Strategy…. We are conscious of the need to maintain the impetus generated by this project and we therefore intend holding a type of “mini seminar” in Dublin in December this year (2009) to discuss data and homelessness issues as a follow-up to our national meeting last year. This will give us the opportunity to reinforce the results of the project and provide a link to EU year for combating poverty and social exclusion (2010) with particular emphasis on our target of ending long-term homelessness by end of 2010”. (Marie Falvey, Nov 2009).
MPHASIS also helped create a transnational network, through its Final Project Conference in Paris, attended by representatives of 25 of the EU-27 countries (all except Cyprus and Slovakia), as well as representatives from Norway, USA, the European Commission and European organisations, as well as though the MPASIS website. The project has helped facilitate policy learning with the transfer of ideas and concepts, such as the growing consensus on the value of the ETHOS typology, although much more remains to be done in relation to measurement and evaluation of homelessness if the potential benefits of transnational comparisons and learning are to be maximised.
The research strand of MPHASIS has advanced understanding of a number of methodological issues in relation to measuring homelessness and led to a number of specific technical recommendations. One example relates to the use of administrative data. In most of the countries participating in MPHASIS, ex-prisoners form a significant segment of the homeless population. A number of countries include people due for release from prison within two months with no home in their official definition of homelessness. Despite the fact that prisons and Justice Departments collect a range of administrative data on prisoners, no country in Europe maintains information on the numbers at risk of homelessness on release. Research inNorwayandPolandidentified a number of issues related to improving systems for the use of this administrative data and integrating it into homeless statistics. Three main policy lessons can be drawn from the research. First, module discharge protocols are needed to ensure consistency in approach between prisons across the country and to enable co-ordination between prison authorities and local authorities especially in the sharing of this information. Second, the system of housing advice and support for prisoners (and related information gathering) should not be linked to conditions of their parole or release. Third, consistency in data collection needs to be underpinned by the use of common software systems. This will allow the extraction of core variables on this group to be integrated into homeless information systems and collated for publication at regional and national level.
The MPHASIS Project ended in December 2009 and the Final Technical Report, which was submitted to the EU in February 2010, contains recommendations in relation to the following areas: national governance, networking, monitoring progress, guidance, research. The project is widely seen to have created a new dynamic in relation to measuring homelessness and its findings will feed into the 2010 EU Consensus Conference on Homelessness to be held in December 2010 in Belgium.