New data sheds light on Canada’s growing homelessness crisis

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New data sheds light on growing homelessness crisis
WATCH: Researchers are trying to get a better handle on the number of people experiencing homelessness in Canada -- including Kingston – Nov 22, 2022

Researchers are trying to get a better handle on the number of people experiencing homelessness in Canada, including in Kingston, Ont.

A team at Lawson Health Research Institute is using new data to outline the scope of the problem.

Now, with winter weather upon us, services tackling homelessness can mean the difference between life and death for many.

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“We’re in a pandemic and it’s coming into the winter months,” says Jacob Staley, who previously experienced homelessness.

“I believe that we need to expand our facilities to hold the homeless so that they have somewhere warm to go at night — so they’re not sleeping in a tent or on the street.”

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The nationwide research project has gathered data on homelessness in 28 communities across the country since 2021, including some data collected in Kingston.

“Our goal was to come up with a better method of knowing how many people in Canada are truly homeless, and who are they,” says Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, assistant scientific director at Lawson.

The researchers visited a variety of community shelters and organizations to meet with people with lived experience, as well as service providers.

“So that we can have more accurate numbers to get the right services to the right people,” Forchuk says.

The findings show how homelessness is an issue that needs to be addressed by all levels of government — leading Dr. Forchuk to call for national action on a federal level.

“Canada has been the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have housing and homelessness at the federal level,” says Dr. Forchuk.

“That was downloaded around 20 years ago to the provinces, and in Ontario, it was further downloaded to the municipalities.”

Current federal numbers suggest there are 235,000 people experiencing homelessness across Canada over the course of an entire year.

Using a health database algorithm, which builds on existing health data, Dr. Forchuk and her team found there to be three times as many people as federally reported.

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“They were more likely to get COVID, 20 times more likely to be hospitalized, more likely to end up in the ICU, more likely to be dead in 21 days,” she says.

“We felt it was very important to have that data so that they could be prioritized for vaccines, and understand this is a high-risk population that’s often invisible.”

Funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and a community-based federal program aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness across Canada called ‘Reaching Home,’ the project looks to get a more accurate picture of unhoused numbers.

Dr. Forchuk hopes this data can be used to better service the homeless community, and ensure an often invisible group is seen and taken care of.

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