Published on CBC.ca // February 21, 2016
How many people in Hamilton are homeless right now? What do they need?
About 200 volunteers are involved in a two-day effort Sunday and Monday to find out.
Hamilton volunteers trained Sunday and began conducting a "point-in-time count" of the region's homeless population. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
The city is doing a "point-in-time count" of its homeless population, which will contribute to a national picture comparing the results from Hamilton and other cities.
"We want to move out of the realm of the anecdote and into the realm of data."
- Iain De Jong, consultant with OrgCode, working with Hamilton for the point-in-time count
It comes at an important time in Hamilton, as its downtown takes a different shape than it has for many years and after sharp increases in the price of homes.
Iain De Jong, a consultant with OrgCode, has worked on homelessness-ending efforts all over North America and is in Hamilton for the count.
"When you have a downtown core that is re-emerging, gentrifying — there are going to need to be community conversations about the coexistence of people who want to have the urban life, and the people who were likely living there before the wealth came along," De Jong said.
Here are five features of this year's point-in-time count in Hamilton:
Urban vs. citywide picture
Last year's effort focused primarily on the urban core, with an emphasis on people who were living in shelters or using meal programs. Last year, 470 people were surveyed.
This year, the effort expands to include the entire city, including rural and suburban areas.
"I think we make some assumptions that people are experiencing homelessness only in the downtown core," said Amanda DiFalco, the city's homelessness services co-ordinator. "But how do we know unless we go out?"
This year, the city is partnering with aboriginal leaders to include the aboriginal community in a citywide count.
Two aboriginal leaders have been part of the planning for the count, and have suggested trying to get one aboriginal volunteer on every team of people going out to survey. They also decided to host an open house to of sorts, geared to people who are homeless and aboriginal.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Beasley Community Centre and is designed with food and cultural comfort in mind, said Yvonne Maracle, one of the organizers.
"When they know where we are, once the word starts getting out on the street, they'll show up," she said.
Organizers hope the count will give them baseline data to work from about what homelessness looks like in Hamilton. They plan to share the statistics collected with provincial and federal governments.
"We want to move out of the realm of the anecdote and into the realm of data," De Jong said.
Homelessness co-ordinator DiFalco said traditional homelessness programs lead to people finding permanent housing at a rate of just 33 per cent.
"Historically, we've managed homelessness. But homelessness is in fact a solvable problem."
- Amanda DiFalco, City of Hamilton homelessness services coordinator
But "housing first" programs have success rates of more like 80 per cent, she said.
Hamilton's recent housing first placements have led to 83 per cent of people remaining housed, two years later.
"Homelessness is in fact a solvable problem," DiFalco said. "Our community does great work, but I think there's a willingness to move into a time of action."
138 people housed
Last year's surveys identified 109 people who were the most vulnerable — determined by mental health symptoms, medical conditions, substance abuse and how long someone has been on the street.
As of Jan. 31, the city had placed 138 people, including some of those surveyed last year, into housing first placements, where depending on their needs, people can get medical, mental or social support along with a place to live.
DiFalco didn't have the number handy on Sunday to say how many of the 138 had been identified in last year's survey effort, but said they all met the vulnerability criteria that identified those 109.
So far, she said, 95 per cent of the people who were housed since the surveys last year have remained in their housing.
Part of a national effort
Every person the volunteers meet will be given the option of completing a survey so that the city can get a picture of demographics, experiences, health needs and other particular characteristics that will help them cater their services to the people who are living in Hamilton, rather than general one-size-fits-all programs.
The count is part of a Canada-wide effort to find permanent homes for 20,000 of the most vulnerable people across the country by July 1, 2018.
The city plans to release the results of this year's effort on March 4.
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