Homelessness study coming to United Counties

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As we reported in last week’s Times, the United Counties of Leeds & Grenville [UCLG] is taking part in a province-wide study to document the extent and nature of homelessness in the region. The “Promoting Affordable Housing Act, 2016″, requires the various levels of municipal government in Ontario to conduct these studies, and the UCLG have now asked themselves the question: how do you survey people who have no home?

The counties-wide survey, which will be done during the week of May 13-19, is a massive co-operative effort by social-service agencies, food banks, soup kitchens, churches, charities and schools to identify and interview the homeless.

“This is quite a significant undertaking,” said Alison Tutak, director of community and social services. “It means a lot of work.”

Alison is very aware that the project will require a great deal of work, as the homeless are often hidden in society. The study needs to include families and individuals who are living in unstable housing situations, such as staying temporarily with friends or couch surfing, in addition to the stereotype of homeless people sleeping outside on a park bench.

Alison Tutak said the counties are relying on their partners to be the eyes and ears of the survey. The UCLG note that: “high school guidance counsellors, for example, might be able to identify students who have left home and are sleeping on a friends’ couch. Such agencies as Brockville’s Interval House would know of women who have fled their homes to escape domestic violence. Ontario Works offices could help identify homeless people who apply for social assistance”.

The Counties have also noted that, sometimes, the homeless are in hospitals and jails, so the counties are reaching out to those agencies to help in the survey. After identifying the homeless, the volunteers will survey them to find such things as names, data on gender, age, ethnicity, veteran status and more. Names of the people surveyed will be kept confidential, said Ms. Tutak, adding that the names and other identifying questions will ensure that the same people are not interviewed multiple times.

The UCLG survey is quite extensive, with a “wide series of questions”, and those who take part will be compensated in small ways, such as a Tim Horton’s card or something similar, Alison said. She also pointed out that there is no homeless shelter in Leeds and Grenville, but the counties have seven apartments that are available on an emergency basis for people in need. The apartments are available for up to 21 days, and they are rarely empty, she said. Interval House also has some residents who are homeless.

The Ontario Housing Ministry has ordered all municipalities to do the homeless survey as part of the provincial government’s pledge to eliminate poverty by 2025, as laid down in the “Promoting Affordable Housing Act, 2016. The data collected will be used to guide government policies on housing and give a better picture of the face of homelessness in Ontario. For example, it would provide statistic on chronic homelessness as opposed to temporary, and highlight differences among rural and urban municipalities. This is the first time that Leeds and Grenville has surveyed homelessness, but it won’t be the last, according to Ms. Tutak, as the ministry wants the enumeration to be done annually or biannually after this.

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