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New research suggests Canada’s homeless crisis is bigger than current data shows


With no place to go, people experiencing homelessness across Canada is a growing problem, but new research suggests it could be even bigger than the current data shows.

“The traditional methods have been really looking at who touch the homeless sector, but not everyone experiencing homelessness touches the homeless sector,” said Lawson Health Search Institute Assistant Scientific Director, Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, who was giving a presentation in Moncton on Tuesday.

“We started from a different point and looked at health data and we started with the Ontario data and we found if we looked at that, it’s still not perfect because not everybody touches health care, but we could find about three times as many people compared to the traditional method,” she said.

The research project took place across Canada with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada and Reaching Home.

The team went to 28 communities and interviewed more than 400 people experiencing homelessness, as well as community shelters, organizations and service providers.

Forchuk says the overall goal was to find a better way of determining just how many people across the country are actually homeless.

“We had a lot of communities reaching out, basically begging us to come and many of these are smaller and more remote communities that said they’d never had a problem with homelessness before,” she said. “In many cases, they’d never even had a shelter before and they had no data.”

She says research was totally missing in small rural communities and there are differences between urban and rural communities when it comes to homelessness.

The lack of data and accurate numbers leads to a bigger communal issue across Canada.

“The current federal numbers suggest we only have 235,000, over the course of an entire year, over the course of the entire country, experiencing homelessness. So then the funding that comes into programs is based on that number, which we believe is very low-balled,” she explained.

As part of the research, the team from Lawson is now going across Canada to present their findings and allow communities to come together to discuss issues and provide feedback.

On Tuesday, about 50 people gathered in Moncton to learn more about an issue that is prevalent not only in the city, but across Canada.

“There’s no one size fits all here, we need to know what the complexities are, what the issues are for each individual and it’s only by sharing data among these organizations that we’ll be able to come up with the solutions,” said Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold.

She says the presentation also provided a lot of insight to the homelessness crisis and how it got to this point.

“It sounds like it kind of started happening in the 1990s with the responsibility being put down from the federal government, because prior to the 1990s, the federal government was really responsible for housing, but that became a provincial responsibility in a lot of jurisdictions across the country and in many, it became a municipal as well,” she said.

Adding things like discharging from jails, hospitals and the cost of living are also contributing factors.

Although a lot of information to take in, she says it was reassuring and positive to see people from all over the region, including Sussex and Sackville, in attendance.

“We know that the issues are often landing on the doorsteps of Moncton, but to see that there are people that care about this and want to be apart of it is the only way we’ll be able to move forward,” she said.

Acknowledging that it’s a very complex and widespread issue, Arnold says there’s one solution here.

“The only cure for homelessness is housing,” she said. “What that looks like, I think is something that we all need to talk about, and increasingly I am hearing that there are people where you may need to go back to or create some sort of place for people to go that can not currently be housed.”

However, Arnold also expressed the importance of having accurate numbers if the help from the government is going to be effective.

“If the data that they’re using is not real, it doesn’t represent rural areas and that sort of thing… we’re already going to fail if the numbers aren’t big enough to accommodate the changes that are needed.”

Over the next year, Forchuk says the research team will be going back to the communities to get advice and feedback to help form the final analysis.

Officials say it’s an all hands on deck situation in order to finally find solutions to combat the homelessness situation.

“We’ve had NIMBYism --- Not In My Backyard --- since forever, since as long as I’ve worked in this field, I was pleasantly surprised that in some communities we’re actually seeing YIMBYism --- Yes In My Backyard, where people are recognizing that this is their neighbour,” said Forchuk.

“People are people.” Top Stories

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