January 13, 2016 5:46 pm
Updated: January 14, 2016 9:32 pm

Edmonton won’t participate in first national homeless count

WATCH ABOVE: Some of the country's big cities, including Edmonton, will not be taking part in a federal homeless count. Vinesh Pratap explains why.


Edmonton is among many Canadian cities not taking part in Canada’s first nationally coordinated count of the homeless population. Homeward Trust Edmonton says the new federal program won’t offer a complete picture of poverty in the city.

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“The enthusiasm that we and other communities have for doing something nationally isn’t great, given that so many large communities aren’t participating,” CEO Susan McGee said. “We’d really like to open that up again, and we’ll see whether or not that’s possible.”

This is the first time the federal government has tried to organize what has largely been a locally-driven count in big cities like Edmonton and all of the Alberta cities that organize local homeless counts are opting out.

“We made a decision within Alberta – the seven communities in Alberta – that we’d stick with our original time frame and do an October count,” McGee said, referring to Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.

The last homeless count by Homeward Trust Edmonton in 2014 found 2,307 people were homeless in the city.

READ MORE: Homeless count shows Edmonton’s homeless numbers are stable 

Since many cities have never done a 24-hour homeless survey, known as a point-in-time count, the federal government decided last year to try and coordinate a national census of those using shelters and living on the street.

Those cities that do a count use different methodologies, making it sometimes difficult to compare results on a national scale.

“There’s a lot that goes into deciding how you’re going to count – the methodology, the questions you’re going to ask – but also it relies very heavily on volunteers,” McGee said. “We cover a lot of ground – there’s various zones within the city we need to cover – so relying on those volunteers is critical. We have attrition of volunteers  at any time of year, for lots of different reasons, but it becomes even more risky in the middle of winter.

“And, if you can only cover half the area you plan to cover, that’s going to really affect your numbers.”

The previous Conservative government was warned seven months ago about potential shortcomings in data from the point-in-time count after a meeting with 49 municipalities when the details of the initiative were first unveiled.

During that meeting, cities initially voiced concerns about the plan to do the count in late January – a time frame the government expanded to run now until the end of April.

“Unfortunately, the decision to go with a January count, which was made by the federal government last year, would have really compromised the value of our count,” McGee said.

“Really, they’re about year-over-year, or count-over-count, comparison. It’s about trending – that’s the value.”

READ MORE: Federally-run homeless count facing data gaps as big cities opt out 

Julian Day, with Boyle Street Community Services, understands the concern about the time of the national count.

“I understand about doing it in January and that it might under-represent homeless people,” Day said. Still, he’s hoping for a compromise.

“My concern will be that if Alberta chooses not to be a part of that and Edmonton chooses not to be a part of that, the voice for homeless people will be lost in that discussion and that our representation won’t be at the table.”

The decision to not join the federal initiative in places like Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, among others, to not join in the federal initiative could make it more difficult for the federal Liberals to create a promised anti-poverty strategy.

McGee isn’t worried that bowing out of the federal count could have any impact on federal funding or housing supports.

“There has been no connection between counts and actual numbers within a count and actual funding and there never has been. Some communities have never counted at all.”

She said Alberta’s counting system has been “fairly good and robust” and is only one way the number of people in the homeless community and their needs are evaluated.

“We’re able to provide – at any time – a fairly clear picture of what our targets are.”

With files from Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

© 2016 Shaw Media

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