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Homeless counts are all the rage at this point in time

May 25, 2015


This year, Canadian cities seem to be counting on their homeless people more than ever before.

On March 24, the same day that the city of Vancouver, B.C. held its fourth stand-alone homeless count, the city of Montréal, Quebec, conducted its first-ever homeless count. The one night effort, dubbed I Count MTL 2015 Montréal Homelessness Survey, was conducted by the Douglas Mental Health University Institute Research Centre, in collaboration with the Québec YMCA and involved some 800 volunteers.

Two weeks ago, the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, carried out a Point-in-Time (PiT) homeless count on Tuesday, May 12th.

The next day, on Wednesday, May 13, both Regina, Saskatchewan, and the city of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, carried out first-time PiT homeless counts.

Regina’s homeless count was carried out under the auspices of the YMCA of Regina on behalf of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and Yellowknife’s count earlier the same day was coordinated by its Community Advisory Board on Homelessness.

A sentence from the Yellowknife CABH website explaining the count may also help explain why these so-called Point-in-Time counts are suddenly all the rage across Canada:

“In coming years, PiT Counts will be required for communities to be eligible to receive federal homelessness funding”.

In order for a Canadian municipality to qualify to receive monies over $200,000 under the federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy programs (either Designated Communities or Aboriginal Homelessness), the Canadian government is requiring that they have completed a Point-in-Time count of homelessness: the 10 largest municipalities in Canada by April 1, 2015 and the smaller ones by April 1, 2016.

Of Canada’s 10 largest municipalities, only four appear to have completed PiT counts: Montréal (March 24, 2015), Edmonton and Calgary (part of Alberta-wide count October 2014) and Vancouver (March 24), while Winnipeg, Manitoba, has been planning since 2014 to conduct a 2015 PiT count in order to qualify for HPS funding.

I may have missed it, but I’ve found no evidence of Canada’s largest city, Toronto, Ontario, counting their homeless population in 2015 (though they do a daily shelter census and they’re expecting HPS funding in 2015) or, for that matter, the other three Ontario municipalities in the top 10: Mississauga, Brampton and Hamilton.

Looking at homelessness the American way

Back in 2003, when Metro Vancouver began a three-yearly regional count of homelessness, the count, its methodology and its results were unique to the region. In the 12 years since, other municipalities across Canada have variously counted their homeless populations — but in such dissimilar ways that it has proven impossible to reliably combine them into anything like a national picture of homelessness in Canada.

It would appear that the federal government of Canada is finally following the lead of the United States in harnessing municipal homelessness counts in order to build a relatively trustworthy annual national count of Canada’s homeless population.

As directed by the the U.S. Congress in 2001, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to alternately conduct a standardized Point-in-Time count of sheltered or unsheltered homeless every year in February. This year, the 2015 national U.S. Point-in-time count of homelessness covered both sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations.

Point-in-Time counts neither yield the total number of people living in homelessness, nor do they give anything like the whole picture of homelessness; what they can do is cut through the fog of supposition and provide a brief moment of clarity.

Requiring identical methodology of all PiT counts across the United States at least insures that they are equally imprecise and in the context of nationally coordinated counts, the annual, or bi-annual, frequency gives the United States a useful tool: an empirical, year-to-year snapshot of the homeless state of their union.

Clearly, a similar nation-wide snapshot of  Canadian homelessness is in the works and it’s long overdue that we have one. I think Canadians will be shocked, especially by the bleak picture it paints of aboriginal homelessness.

From → Canada, Homeless life

One Comment
  1. Slowcrow permalink

    Informative post, fer sure. Heavy reading at the links, will have to print out and try to explore and comprehend, but seems like, if you’re not mentally ill, you’re not homeless. Thanks for the research, but now I’ll never get the lawn mowed for quite awhile. Bring on the geese…… Lol


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