A feature of Dec. 7 city council meeting will be the presentation of the Point in Time count, a report on the numbers and demographics of those who are homeless in Sudbury. Not only did the report paint a picture of who is homeless in Sudbury, but the number of people who are here from another city.
The count, which is a requisite of the provincial and federal funding the municipality receives for homeslessness services, should have been completed previously, but was postponed in March of 2020 due to the pandemic, and then postponed again this past March due to an outbreak in the shelter system.
Finally completed on October 19, 36 outreach workers performed a count of the number of persons identifying as homeless, but also completed surveys of personal history with those who consented. The outreach workers are specifically trained in obtaining this information without retraumatizing the people they are working with.
In previous years, data regarding those who are homeless in Sudbury has been obtained through a period prevalence count, designed by Carol Kauppi, director of the Centre for Research in Social Justice and Policy at Laurentian University. The period prevalence count takes place over a longer period of time, but the Point in Time count is mandatory to maintain provincial and federal funding.
As per the report, “On the night of Oct, 19, there were a total of 398 persons identified as experiencing homelessness in a shelter, transitional housing, or unsheltered (unsheltered in public space, encampment.)”
Of those, 132 people agreed to participate in the survey. Of those considered “chronically homeless” — without a home for six months or more in the last year — there were 57 per cent of survey respondents who met the definition, and 36 per cent of those had been homeless for a full year.
Also of note is that 72 per cent of survey respondents stated that they had relocated to Sudbury from another city; 33 per cent of those had been in Sudbury less than a year, and 15 per cent for less than 60 days. The top two reasons given are “family moved here,” or “to access services and supports.”
Demographically, the report notes that not too much has changed since the 2018 period prevalence count, especially that a large number of individuals experiencing homelessness identify as Indigenous (42 per cent). That is in comparison to the population of Sudbury who identify as Indigneous (9.4 per cent). There were respondents with military service history, immigrants to Canada, and those with post-secondary or graduate-level educations.
While single adults comprised the largest part of the population, there were 22 family households (a partner, another adult or child) experiencing homelessness, and 11 of these had at least one dependent child.
The report includes the questions that were asked of the respondents and though the survey is comprehensive, it is not nuanced, and so some responses are lost in categories. The main reason respondents gave for why they lost their housing was “due to unfit/unsafe housing conditions,” though no further specifics are given. The same with a challenge to obtaining permanent housing, in that 29 per cent of respondents said “poor housing,” with no further information.
However, clearly indicated in the challenges to obtaining permanent housing is rental prices being too high (67 per cent), and income being too low (62 per cent). (Survey respondents could choose more than one answer.) Most survey respondents, 86 per cent, received social assistance, with the majority receiving Ontario Works. Of the respondents, 98 per cent said they would like to get permanent housing.
Also clear was the effect of the pandemic, as 19 per cent of respondents said their most recent housing loss was related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic also added challenges to the outreach workers while performing the count. The report notes that staff could not enter Memorial Park proper due to the outbreak at the time, and were forced to stay at the perimeter to meet with those they could, even with PPE. However, staff made surveys available to those in the park who were taking part in the testing offered by Sudbury paramedics.
There were posters put out to advertise participation in the count, but it required a phone to call a dedicated extension; because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many in-person services were closed and workers couldn’t use them as a point of contact.
To help encourage survey-takers, participants were informed the surveys were anonymous, that they could skip any question they liked and that completion of a survey included an honorarium (noted as a $10 gift card or a six-ride GOVA transit pass).
The survey also helps develop programs in Sudbury and gives an insight into what is needed. Based on the survey, that need is in mental health and addictions services. Of the survey respondents, 80 per cent reported a substance use issue and 66 per cent reported a mental health issue. As well, almost half of respondents reported a learning or cognitive limitation (45 per cent), and 35 per cent reported an acquired brain injury.
There is also a large strain on the emergency room, as 63 per cent of respondents had been to an emergency room in the past year, with the number of times ranging from one to 30.
The full report will be presented at the meeting on Dec. 7 to be discussed with city councillors.