On Tuesday night, a small army of people combed Calgary to collect a better picture of homelessness in the city.
“The point-in-time count — or, as we like to call it, the ‘pit count’ — provides a snapshot of homelessness on any given night,” said Patricia Jones, president and CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation.
“It’s just one of the tools we use to measure homelessness in Calgary and as a result of that, to kind of manage and design systems and supports for people experiencing homelessness.”
While Calgary has been doing counts every other year since 1992, the last one was done in 2018. The onset of the pandemic cancelled the 2020 count.
On Tuesday evening, point-in-time counts were being done concurrently in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
The ersatz census collects three types of data: administration of housing and shelters; systems like social services, health and justice; and data collected from in-person surveys.
“It’s not an intrusive process or is as less-intrusive as we can be. It’s relational, it’s respectful and it protects people’s privacy,” Jones said.
“They will be asking very specific questions so we can gather data to get a specific point in time of the amount of people experiencing homelessness and what some of the primary issues are.”
The data collection also allows civil society organizations to work with people experiencing homelessness to better understand “what the current situation is in the community, any progress that’s being made in our efforts to end homelessness, where there may be some gaps or challenges, where we need to potentially refocus some energy, that there are certain subpopulations within that group that might need additional support in order to exit homelessness,” Elaine Wilson at CUPS Calgary said.
Jones said having updated data, especially after the onset of the pandemic that hit many Albertans’ health and work, is vital for those who are living on the edge of homelessness.
“There’s a lot of people still falling between the cracks.
“I believe we have a one per cent vacancy rate in Calgary. I think inflation is up by 20 per cent. So there are a lot of people kind of on the edge of the wedge and we need to make sure we have that safety net because I think that is the mark of a healthy community: the manner in which they support those most vulnerable,” Jones said.
Wilson said CUPS’ services, like its basic needs funds, have been under increased demand since COVID-19.
“Those basic needs that individuals (who) maybe prior to COVID had a steady job or had some sort of income that they may have lost or had challenges due to COVID not being able to work, I think a lot of that contributed to seeing an increase of people reaching out for support,” she said.
“I do think one of the benefits to have come from COVID has been a real sense of collaboration among the sector.
“But we are still, even now as we kind of slowly start to come out the other side, are seeing those long-lasting impacts that COVID has had on a lot of individuals who may have not had a lot of other resources that they were able to access.”