Groups ready for Saskatoon homeless count

The StarPhoenix June 15, 2015 -

Local researchers will launch Saskatoon’s third one-day count of the city’s homeless population next week.

The “point-in-time” count is a snapshot of Saskatoon’s level of homelessness, which increased the last time groups scoured the city for homeless numbers that help researchers and governments develop policies and new programs.

The 2015 Saskatoon homeless count is scheduled for June 22 and is coordinated by the Community-University Institute for Social Research (CUISR). The group is still looking for volunteers to fill the 120 spots required to get the best count possible.

“I think we’ll get richer data this time, a much broader sense of how the community views the issue as well as those who are experiencing homelessness,” said CUISR university co-director Isobel Findlay.

In September 2012, the count found 372 homeless people — including 78 children — in Saskatoon. On the day volunteers hit the streets, they found 269 people in shelters and 103 people sleeping outdoors.

Three years earlier, the first count found 261 homeless people in Saskatoon.

Homeless counts across Canada are more coordinated this year to help standardize the methodology and data to better inform the federal government’s homeless strategy and identify trends, Findlay said.

“If we’re using different data from different times, it’s harder to compare across jurisdictions,” she said, adding this year there is a focus on chronic homelessness and “episodic” homelessness, which is defined as a person experiencing three or more instances of homelessness in the past year.

The data gathered helps local agencies and groups develop new programs, she added.

“Each one has taught us some lessons. The second one contributed to the data the United Way was looking for in terms of their efforts to end homelessness and set up a Housing First program. There were immediate program changes as a result of the data collection,” Findlay said.

Volunteers work in teams to identify homeless people and must take a three-hour training session that covers topics such as confidentiality, respecting dignity of homeless people and safety.

The teams go to shelters and walk outside to find homeless people indoors and outdoors, or those who are at risk of being homeless on a particular day in Saskatoon.

“It’s walking along the sidewalk,” Findlay said. “Each group gets a map of the area they will canvass and they literally walk up and down the streets in a systematic way. They do not repeat ... you do everything once so there is no double counting.”

This year’s homeless count is funded by the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership and the Community Advisory Board on Saskatoon Homelessness.

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