A group of housing organizations and advocates has conducted the Point-in-Time Count to determine on April 7 the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in the Halifax Regional Municipality’s core.
The group collected information on that day from the Halifax Peninsula, Clayton Park, Spryfield, Downtown Dartmouth, Dartmouth Crossing, and Bedford and Sackville.
Surveyors went to both sheltered and unsheltered locations to speak with homeless individuals, including emergency homeless shelters, hotels, transitional housing, the Burnside correctional facility, food and drop-in programs, libraries, crisis shelters and encampments.
The survey identified that on April 7 there were 586 individuals without a safe permanent address in HRM.
“This number is not like a single, it’s not the number,” said Sheri Lecker with Adsum House.
“The number is constantly changing, people are finding housing, people are losing housing so it’s really complicated.”
Eric Jonsson, the program co-ordinator with Navigator Street Outreach Program, led this year’s count. He says the idea is to provide a snapshot of the homeless population during a single point in time, but says it’s also important to note there are many homeless individuals who weren’t counted.
“There’s so many people who are homeless that for whatever reason we can’t find them or they don’t want to be found,” said Jonsson.
Examples of populations missed in this survey include those who are couch surfing, those who are self-funding hotel stays through self-employment or sex work, people living in unsafe homes and people in rural areas.
“That’s a huge gap here so even though we found a bunch of people, there are still a lot of people we missed.”
Of the people who were counted, 65 per cent were male, 33 per cent were female and two per cent identified as gender diverse. The average age was 43 and the average first age of homelessness was 32.
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The survey also found that marginalized communities were overrepresented.
While just four per cent of HRM’s population identify as First Nation, 22 per cent of homeless individuals were from First Nation communities. Fifteen per cent of homeless individuals identified as African American, Black, or Caribbean or African descent, despite that population making up just 3.8 per cent of the HRM population.
People with disabilities and health issues were also overrepresented, with 63 per cent of those surveyed saying they had mental health challenges and 37 percent were physically disabled.
Housing affordability identified as key issue
Nearly half of those who were surveyed are newly homeless, having lost their housing in the past six months.
“Common factors for losing housing included evictions, renovictions, complaints from landlords and neighbours and simply not having enough money to pay rent,” said Lecker.
While the majority of homeless individuals were unemployed at the time of the survey, the count found a growing number of employed individuals becoming homeless. Seventeen per cent of those surveyed were employed but cited difficulties finding affordable housing.
“Folks who are working, who are in employment situations, we’re seeing more of those people interface with the system. We talked to folks who are employed, they’re full-time employed and they’re living in their car,” said Charlene Gagnon, the data analyst for the count.
“The cost of housing right now is just so enormous.”
According to the survey, 73 per cent of individuals experiencing homelessness cite a lack of safe and affordable housing as the biggest challenge.
Advocates warn, though, that just getting 586 affordable housing units won’t solve homelessness and that it will take thousands of affordable units to properly address the issue.
“We have to consider how many people are at immediate risk of homelessness,” said Lecker.
“People are pushed to the max. There’s something called being in core housing need. That’s when you’re spending more than 30 per cent of your income on your housing and then there’s severe housing need, you’re spending more than half of your income and across this province, there are tens of thousands of households in either core or severe core housing need.”