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Halifax outreach worker expecting ‘huge jump’ in numbers in upcoming homelessness survey

Click to play video: 'Halifax outreach workers prepare to collect data on homelessness' Halifax outreach workers prepare to collect data on homelessness
WATCH: Outreach workers in Halifax are preparing to collect data on the number of people experiencing homelessness in the city, for the first time in four years. The survey was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, and frontline workers are expecting a surge in numbers. Alexa MacLean reports – Mar 14, 2022

Outreach workers and volunteers are preparing to conduct a “homelessness snapshot” survey in Halifax for the first time in four years.

“Because of the pandemic, we haven’t done one since 2018. So, there’s going to be a huge jump since then,” Eric Jonsson said, a street outreach navigator in Halifax.

The Point in Time count is a federally-funded program that’s mandated every two years in cities across Canada.

Read more: Nova Scotia’s housing crisis - How the emergency has reached a boiling point

The pandemic stalled the survey. It’s now scheduled for one night this April.

Jonsson says the federal survey differs from the provincial homelessness list in that surveyors actively seek out people experiencing visible homelessness.

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“We try to get one accurate snapshot, at least this one day every two years, and then hopefully we can compare that data over time and see what happens,” he said.

The Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia [AHANS] keeps track of a by-name list that is updated by support workers and service providers.

Jonsson says the list only includes unhoused people who come into contact with the housing support system.

“I think the shelters are doing a really good job of getting the people in the shelters on the list but we don’t have a lot of outreach workers like myself. So, there’s a lot of people who are outside right now that probably aren’t on the list because they just haven’t been connected to a resource that will do that,” he said.

An unhoused man living outside in Halifax warms up by a fire. Alexa MacLean / Global Halifax

As of March 8, there are 487 people currently experiencing homelessness in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

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Jonsson says data collection is only one part of the overall homelessness picture but it can help steer support, and funding, through evidence-backed information.

“If we don’t kind of target our interventions to the people that we need to house then I think we might be wasting money. We might be building stuff that nobody’s going to use, or that’s ineffective. So, I think the data is important and we need to be doing a better job collecting it,” he said.

Jim Graham, the executive director of AHANS says while there is room for data collection improvement, it shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of frontline workers.

“The work that service providers do is daunting, I don’t think they get enough credit for the work that they do at all. And, we need to find a way to support them even more than we are already,” he said.

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