Preventing and reducing homelessness: An integrated data project

The Province is undertaking an innovative data project to better understand, respond to, and prevent homelessness in B.C.

Last updated: April 4, 2022

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Project overview

The Ministry of the Attorney General and Responsible for Housing, in partnership with BC Housing and the Ministries of Social Development and Poverty Reduction (SDPR) and Citizens’ Services, is undertaking an integrated data project to identify the cohort of individuals who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless in B.C.

By providing a comprehensive, robust and reliable dataset, the project will help the Provincial Government better understand, respond to and prevent homelessness in B.C.

Diagram 1: Depicting what data partner organizations are sharing to create the homelessness cohort.

Potential uses

To provide an evidence base for public policy decision making:

  • A baseline for policy makers to assess the impacts of policy initiatives. Currently, this metric to evaluate policy outcomes at the population level does not exist

To provide baseline understanding for service delivery decisions:

  • New demographic insight about the population of people served. This will help to identify new opportunities for collaboration and more strategic delivery of client services to achieve greater collective impact

To improve the quality, coverage or presentation of existing statistical information:

  • Expand data gathering to all communities in B.C. and use this data to improve supports and services for people experiencing homelessness across the province

Project phases

Across the 4 proposed phases of the integrated data project, the team will:

  • Phase 1: Use integrated data to provide an estimate of the number of people experiencing homelessness in B.C.; Homeless Cohort  
  • Phase 2: Examine how people use homelessness services
  • Phase 3: Investigate how people move into and out of homelessness
  • Phase 4: Predict demand and evaluate programs

Phase 1 defines the research cohort of de-identified individuals who experienced homelessness in B.C. in 2019 and 2020. Descriptive analysis lends insight to the demographic and geographic composition of the cohort, aggregated by age, gender and census division.

In future phases, data gathered from the services utilized across public sector entities will allow for a greater understanding of the demographic characteristics of this population, and the pathways by which people enter homelessness. This information will provide insights into the cross-government interventions that support people to secure stable housing, exit homelessness and remain stably housed.

In addition to providing more information about homelessness, this work will highlight roles of different parts of government and its partners in preventing and responding to homelessness. It will also identify opportunities for coordination across government to better understand and effectively respond to homelessness.

Phase 1 findings

Through research and analysis in phase 1 of the project, the research team was able to estimate than approximately 23,000 people experienced homelessness in British Columbia at one point in both 2019 and 2020, while an average of 9,300 people experienced homelessness every month in 2019, and 10,300 each month in 2020.

Further findings from phase one of the integrated data project are available in the following documents:


Diagram 2: Depicting the difference between Personal Data, De-Identified Data and Population Level Data.

The project is enabled by the Data Innovation Program (DIP), a data integration and analytics program for the B.C. government. While every B.C. ministry collects and manages its own data, the Data Innovation Program can securely link and de-identify data from multiple ministries, giving government a broader understanding of complex issues. The Data Innovation Program is based on world-leading best practices for managing safe access to confidential or sensitive data, following the Five Safes model to protect data and reduce the risk of sensitive data being accessed or used inappropriately.

The data science work is conducted by the Data Science Partnerships program, a service provided through the Digital Platform and Data Division of the Office of the Chief Information Officer, Ministry of Citizens’ Services, which aims to accelerate adoption of data-driven digital government by providing data science support to ministries.

Data sets used in Phase 1 of this project were:

B.C. Employment and Assistance Data (SDPR, Data Innovation Program)

  • 2019 and 2020 involvement data
  • 2019 and 2020 no fixed address data

Emergency Shelter Program (BC Housing, Data Innovation Program)

  • Shelter stays data
  • Clients’ data

Client Registry (Data Innovation Program)

  • Demographics data

Statistics Canada Data

The analytic definition of the 2019 and 2020 Homelessness Cohort integrates SDPR BC Employment and Assistance program no fixed address (NFA) data and BC Housing Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) shelter use data with the Ministry of Health Medical Services Plan (MSP) client registry as the population directory used to link the data.